You have a business idea, but you should probably wait till after graduation to start really working on it, right? That didn’t stop Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. Granted, the chances of you dropping out and becoming a billionaire are incredibly slim, but you can start a successful business while you’re still in school. And LSU can help you.
To find out how LSU helps students launch startups, we reached out to Kenny Anderson, manager and business consultant at the LSU Student Incubator, which is part of the larger LSU Innovation Park. Here’s an overview of how they help students turn their big ideas into reality.
Business Guidance and Referrals
The staff at the incubator is knowledgeable and ready to help with many types of business challenges. They have four full-time business consultants, four MBA graduate assistants, a marketing intern and an engineering intern, all ready to offer advice and assistance, Anderson says. They can help with writing a business plan, writing a marketing plan, financial modeling, management consulting, market research and strategic planning, he says.
One of the best resources the staff offers is their extensive network of referrals. They know many attorneys and others who often do discounted work for the incubator participants. They also have a network of student services. For example, Anderson says, if someone needs a logo designed or an app to complement a web project, the incubator staff can speak with professors and possibly have that worked into a course’s class project and have students work on it for free. They get experience and credit; the startup gets free work. Everyone wins.
The student incubator also offers students access to a 1,200 square foot co-working space so they can quietly get work done or meet with co-workers, advisors, clients or investors.
Access to Capital
Unless you’ve found some vendors who accept hugs and kind words as payment, your startup will need cash. This is one of the most critical issues for any new business and the staff at the incubator know how to help.
“We’re ready to help. We’ll introduce them to investors and help them with their investor pitches. We’ll even go with them to the bank and apply for a bank loan,” he says.
Another way the incubator can help your startup get cash is through the annual Venture Challenge. “Every April, we raise $25,000. We raise it ourselves from local entrepreneurs and former incubator tenants,” Anderson says. Student incubator participants submit a business plan for the competition. “We’ll help you with the business plan,” says Anderson, “but we won’t do it for you.” Approximately 25 tenants submit a plan every year and the first round judges (local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists) whittle it down to the top four finalists.
The top four finalists then have a Pitch Night. They get 10 minutes to pitch their plan to judges and then 10 minutes for Q&A. Each of the four finalists will walk away with cash, divvied up by the judges. The most someone can receive is $15,000 and the least is $1,000. “They leave the room with a check that night. It’s their cash, no strings attached, no further requirements,” says Anderson. The incubator is still enrolling participants, and it’s not too late to apply for the Venture Challenge. This year’s Venture Challenge Pitch Night will be April 20, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Tin Roof Brewery. The event is open to the public.
A Prototype Lab
Many students who work with the incubator have intangible products like software and apps. For those that want to manufacture tangible goods, one of the best things about the incubator is the ability to produce fully functional prototypes.
In fact, the prototype lab helped with one of the incubator’s biggest success stories, Anderson says. “It’s always a success when we can take a product from idea to sale,” he says, “and we did that with Tonal Innovation.”
Two students from the Tiger Band approached the incubator with a problem. The entire marching band looks at flip books during practice and performances, and it would be easier if they could keep their music electronically on a phone or iPad. Daniel Wendt and Garrett Kessling, a drum major and saxophone player respectively, had an idea for a device that would allow instruments to attach to electronic devices. “We sent them to the prototyping lab. They got this designed for less than $200. They got a real CAD file, we printed it with the 3D printer, and they had a working, usable prototype. It was used recently in a bowl game,” Anderson says. They’ve now sourced a manufacturer overseas and the product is for sale on their website, he says.
Ready to get started? “The only requirement is that someone be a current LSU student, from undergrad to PhD level. We never turn anyone away,” he says. You can schedule a consultation with Kenny at any time. Everything will remain confidential and you’ll talk directly with him.
“No student business is too early in stage to talk to me. You can have had the idea yesterday and we’ll set up a consultation,” he says.
For more information about the student incubator, email Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org or call his office at 225-578-7127.