Nineteen DePaul University students will spend the next four
months developing businesses during a startup launch program hosted by the
Coleman Entrepreneurship Center and the Founder Institute.
Students will meet on Tuesday evenings at the Coleman Center to work on various
aspects of their business plans with the help of 50 mentors, which include a
mix of DePaul alumni and professionals representing a range of industries.
Jason Jacobsohn (MBA ’02), director of the Founder
Institute’s Chicago chapter, will facilitate the program at DePaul.
Based in Silicon Valley, the Institute hosts idea-stage accelerator programs
for aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the country and the world, and has helped
participants develop nearly 3,000 companies. This is the first time the
Institute has brought its program to a university.
“Accelerator programs allow students to explore an idea while they have a
safety net,” says Coleman Assistant Director Abigail Ingram. “Students have access
to all of the university’s resources and networks, and expertise in every
possible area, so it’s one of the few times in their lives where they will be
plugged into a network of PhDs and specialists as well as experiential
To qualify for the free program, students were required to fill out an
application and take the Founder Institute’s aptitude test, which assesses
problem-solving abilities, agreeableness and openness – qualities of a
successful entrepreneur. The Coleman
Center also hosted a mini version of the institute’s program in fall 2018
to gauge whether it was a right fit for DePaul students.
DePaul’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
An adjunct instructor at the business college, Jacobsohn formed the Chicago
chapter of the Founder Institute in 2011. Typically, the institute requires
that participants’ business ideas be based in the tech industry and that
applicants pay a program fee. Jacobsohn says while the DePaul-based program is
free, students are held accountable through an online system that tracks the
progress of their businesses.
“The entrepreneurship ecosystem at DePaul is very diverse, so we’re letting the
students build whatever business they want to build,” Jacobsohn says. “They
also have to be prepared every week to present to mentors so that by the time
they’re done with the program, if they want to present to other stakeholders or
a board, potential hires, co-founders, or investors they get really good and
comfortable to present their business.”
During the first half of the program, students will spend
about 10 to 15 hours a week working on research to see if their business idea
is a viable opportunity. In the second half, students will work on building the
company by incorporating, developing a revenue model, putting together a market
strategy and developing a solution to the problem for their business to solve.
Turning an Idea into a Business
To further their business idea, undergraduate finance majors Austin Garwood
and Tyler Cornelius decided to participate in the Founder Institute pilot accelerator
program in fall 2017.
The two, who are DePaul transfer students, formed their idea as roommates
during their sophomore year at the University of Missouri. An avid video game
player, Garwood wanted to buy the headphones he really wanted – a pair of
headphones designed in a galaxy skin – but also wanted the option of a neutral
pair of headphones that wouldn’t clash with his clothes.
“In the headphone market, Beats has 400-something different colors in sports
team patterns and all these crazy designs to choose from,” he says. “You have
to choose one pair and stick with it, and if you want another pair, it’s
another $300. So what we’re trying to do is create one pair of headphones that
can be all of that at once.”
In addition to applying to more rigorous accelerator programs, Cornelius and
Garwood are hoping that by the end of the accelerator program they have
obtained a prototype and design for their product so that they can eventually
obtain their intellectual property.
So far, the program has forced them to improve their elevator pitch by
presenting their business idea to fellow founders and mentors. Jacobsohn also
encouraged them to collect feedback on their product and business idea by
conducting customer interviews and narrowing their target audience and price
“The biggest thing that we’ve gotten from the Founder Institute is just all of
the connections that we’ve been able to make with people, especially the
mentors they bring in,” Garwood says. “Jason and all of the mentors have given
really good information on how to go about developing our ideas into an actual
business and what it takes to go from an idea to getting to the market to
creating an actual company.”
Learn more about: