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N.C. State forfeits stake in student startups in lieu of education

October 10, 2013

Published here on October 7, 2013.

For-profit startup incubators are becoming commonplace on college campuses across the United States. N.C. State, however, has chosen to take a hands-off approach to this educational endeavor by providing resources for students without asking for a cut of their profits.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, several large universities, such as the University of Pennsylvania, are creating startup incubators to encourage students to start education-center companies. The universities will provide the advice and monetary resources, but if the startup is successful, they will also get a chunk of the profits.

“This is a potentially large revenue stream if the companies do well,” Bobbi L. Kurshan, executive director of academic innovation at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of education, told the Chronicle.

N.C. State also has a startup incubator called the Garage, which is located on Centennial Campus. Megan Greer, the associate director of external relations for the Entrepreneurship Initiative at NC State, said the Garage is different than the University of Pennsylvania’s model because it’s an education program.

“If a startup comes out of [a student’s] experience in the Garage, then we celebrate that,” Greer said. “But they own their idea.”

Greer said students can use the Garage as a place to come together and collaborate with others, as a way to experience creating a startup. It’s all about education.

“[The Garage] is not an incubator per say,” Greer said. “It’s a place where students with ideas can come and put ideas into practice. And if they don’t work out, then they can leave it and move onto another idea.”

Greer also said that she does see startups and higher education increasingly influencing each other, for-profit or not.

“I think that we’ve seen an increase in entrepreneurship education programs,” Greer said. “They might have different organization structures, but we have seen more of these incubator type spaces opening on campuses in the UNC-System, as well as the private colleges in North Carolina.”

Burlington-based Elon University, for example, offers a degree in entrepreneurship.

One example of a Garage member directly influencing N.C. State is Heather Troutman, a senior in environmental sciences and self-declared social entrepreneur. Her campaign, Plastic Propaganda, seeks to eliminate single-use plastic on N.C. State’s campus through the help of large-scale artistic demonstrations.

“Rather than telling people information that they may or may not want to hear, the idea is to build something to peak their curiosity through something we can all appreciate – art,” Troutman said.

Plastic Propaganda’s most recent sculpture was the plastic bottle shack in last month’s Shack-a-Thon. Troutman said the bottles represented 20 percent of the soda bottles consumed at Carter-Finley Stadium during a single game. The North Carolina Museum of Art has scheduled to exhibit the shack later this year.

“This year is we’re pushing to get plastic bags removed from campus as well as plastic silverware and takeout containers,” Troutman said. “These will be substituted with other materials that are also single use — because that is the nature of the game — but not plastics which have a really heavy energy input.”

For example, Port City Java recently switched from plastic coffee stirrers to bamboo stirrers. Troutman said these types of changes are what Plastic Propaganda, with the help of the N.C. State sustainability office, is seeking to influence.

Troutman said the most beneficial thing about the Garage is the ability to collaborate.

“A good idea takes a lot of work and creativity to make it an actuality and blossom,” Troutman said. “There’s a way to effectively do it, and there’s been a lot of people throughout history and a lot of people in the Raleigh community who have a lot of experience of taking a good idea and making it a reality rapidly and efficiently.”

Troutman said the Entrepreneurship Initiative, which runs the Garage, has helped her learn to be productive and effective.

“I also network amongst other students who are doing good things aand are doing other good things,” Troutman said.

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