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How to create and administer an undergraduate student incubator and fund

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As with any large change in a university, you need a university individual with influence to help champion your idea. Establishing an undergraduate student incubator is no different. University officials are infinitely more likely to support an idea already supported by a prominent university figure then they are to support enthusiastic students. The trick is to land that first influential supporter and then expand from there.

It's all about that first influential connection.

Who to connect with?

The leaders of the engineering school(s), as well as the business and medicine departments come first. Leaders of the entire university work as well, such as the presidential role, but these are rare and, surprisingly, not as valuable in the early stages. The value lies in the ability to influence others to agree that developing an incubator is a good idea. Sometimes, presidents in a college are not as influential as the leader of an engineering, business or medical department head in this regard. However, everyone has to come on board during the late stages of a given incubators opening to show a strong community level of support.

Many will doubt your cause initially but then will readily join in on the band wagon once some other noteworthy person has supported you.

What is needed before getting started?

  1. Why do you want an incubator?
  2. What can it do for the school?
  3. What is needed to open it?
  4. Why is it a good investment?
  5. When is the soonest it can be open?
  6. How can [who you are presenting to] help?

Never discount the value of a good presentation for why an incubator is a good thing.

What is the process for building the incubator and fund?

Perhaps the easiest way to build the incubator and fund is to at this point, shift the initiation from the students to the administration.  If by now you've convinced the University that they need an incubator, you can network the different interested departments together to take a joint effort in developing the center.  

The University will need funding to launch the incubator and fund.  Internally (within a large University), departments within the university generally don't have any money to spare, but at the college level you might be able to find some funding -- if you have aligned the incubator's purpose with the college's goals.  Externally, a charitable donation will fufill the needs.  Also, look in to other external methods of funding, like Dorm Room Fund, or Blackstone LaunchPad.

What should the incubator provide?

  • Networking
    • Attorney that will provide pro-bono trademarks and patents
    • Local angel investors
    • Any and all local investment networks
    • Any and all local startup communities
    • Mentors (alumni are often happy to help)
  • Web hosting services (see Rackspace Startup Program)
  • Community work space
  • Consultation
  • Entrepreneurial learning ecosystem
  • Opportunities to practice pitching and recieve feedback
    • Pitch competitions (with prizes, invited investors)

What should the incubator require?

  • Student involvement
  • Semester-based reevaluation

What continued involvement is required?

  • Keep funding flowing
  • Continued reevaluation of internal processes
  • Continued evaluation of progress of student startups
  • Continued presence expansion
  • Remain a good investment in the University's vision

What is the timeline?

USCD's incubator was launched in just six months.  This is quite a fast example, but it can be done.

Contact: Jack Goodwin, UCSD