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GA Tech undergraduate entrepreneurship programs yield three successful exits

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 18th, 2017

CREATE-X, an initiative comprising multiple entrepreneurship programs for undergraduates launched at Georgia Tech in 2014, has already created 81 start-ups from 26 majors, earning over $2 million in follow on investments, including three venture-funded start-ups that have been acquired by other companies.

The CREATE-X founder, Raghupathy Sivakumar, professor and Wayne J. Holman Chair in the school of electrical and computer engineering, credits its success with strong support from successful alumni and curricula based on a “learn, make and launch” approach.

 “We have three core philosophies that come through learning,” he explains. “Everything we do is curricular; we do not want to tell students ‘go do entrepreneurship.’ Everything we do shows on the transcript and matters a lot. Second, the pipeline we have created gives students a systematic way of developing their skills; we’re not throwing them deep into the water. We’re saying first explore entrepreneurship.”

The initiative’s most distinguishing feature, he says, is that “we have taken experiential learning to the ultimate extreme — from getting funds, to coaching through entrepreneurship, through taking a product to the market — it helps them explore in a safe setting. And they do it all while working on a degree.”

Sivakumar says the initial idea for CREATE-X came up about five years ago through discussions with colleagues, and a general consensus that there was a need to create an entrepreneurship platform for undergraduates to match all the innovation activity taking place among faculty and post-docs. “I’m a big fan of entrepreneurship and what it means to the growth of an individual,” he says. “The mission of CREATE-X is to instill entrepreneurial confidence in students. That may happen right away, or five or 10 years down the road.”

The programs in CREATE-X provide significant practical experience as well as academic studies on entrepreneurship. For example, there are “learn” classes about start-ups, entrepreneurship, and tech transfer. And while the classroom studies are important, “one of the big things is how to go down to customers and to understand what that really means,” notes Sivakumar. “We end up talking with about 5,000 customers.”

In addition to that focus on customer discovery, “make” programs include “Idea to Prototype” research. “If you have an idea and want to build one, we give you a few hundred dollar grants, a mentor is given, you go work to build a prototype and get research credits,” says Sivakumar.

The start-up lab is one semester, and there is also Startup Launch, an on-campus accelerator. “Students apply to get in, and if they do they get $20,000 in cash from outside investors,” says Sivakumar. “In addition, there is funding for $50,000 in legal services, with repayment deferred until you get seed financing, and 27 weeks of coaching from faculty and local entrepreneurs and industry veterans to help launch the company.”

A detailed article on CREATE-X appears in the September issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, as well as the publication’s 10-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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