IdeaLab Propels Student Entrepreneurs – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

IdeaLab Propels Student Entrepreneurs

Five participants from the HWS IdeaLab, a start-up accelerator program for students, have been awarded funding to help get their entrepreneurial efforts off the ground.

A student-led committee in coordination with the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL) selected 10 students to participate in the fall 2013 IdeaLab. Out of those participants, Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17, Morgan Bungerz ’15, Abbey Foote ’17, Jenna Klicker ’15 and Dennis O’Connell ’16 were chosen to receive seed funding to further their ideas. 

After the six-week IdeaLab program that also serves to prepare students to enter The Pitch contest, students submitted a final proposal to compete for $3,000 worth of grant funding. The student selection committee determined which lab participants would receive funding and what amount after a thorough review. The Pitch is an annual competition for student entrepreneurial leaders.

Thanks to the generosity of Stuart Lieblein ’90, who issued the Lieblein ’90 Challenge earlier in the semester, Bentsi-Enchill, Bungerz, Foote and O’Connell have each been awarded an additional $1,000 as incentivized funding for submitting their IdeaLab proposals to The Pitch and then making the contest’s semifinal round.

Lieblein’s generosity also extends to The Pitch where he will fund the $10,000 grant awarded to the winner of the contest each year for the next five years. The IdeaLab and The Pitch are both facilitated by CCL.

“These programs aren’t just about individually focusing on the liberal arts or what’d you might learn at a technology school,” Lieblein says. “The point is to work toward being an entrepreneur in ways beyond the traditional classroom experience. What is happening with the IdeaLab and The Pitch is bridging those worlds together. HWS is doing a great job of giving these students the opportunity to build those skills.”

The students who were selected to participate in the IdeaLab program and their respective proposals are as follows:

Taylor Anderson ’15 – “ExploWo,” an online service for outdoorswomen that allows them to make connections and share trip information in order to develop a network that facilitates women-led outdoor activities.

Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17 – “RevisionPrep,” an educational tool that combines exam preparation with simple online gaming programs aimed at Ghanaian junior high students.  Awarded $1,000 in funding.

Morgan Bungerz ’15 – “CV Wraps,” a device that supports athletes’ wrists as they perform cross training conditioning programs.  Awarded $1,000 in funding.

Hannah Brunelle ’14 – “Urban Pedal,” a consulting service that partners with higher education institutions in small urban areas to promote biking as a sustainable, equitable and healthy form of mobility.

Jenna Davidson-Catalano ’14 – “GIRLpowerment Campaign,” an educational curriculum centered on how the perception of women can be distorted in media and how girls in elementary and middle school may be influenced.

Abbey Foote ’17 – “Safety Stick,” a simple key chain with a usable applicator device that changes color in the presence of common date-rape drugs.  Awarded $200 in funding.

Jenna Klicker ’15 – “Pitch In (Not Out!),” a business that takes everyday materials that are usually recycled or thrown out and repurposes them into new, usable items.  Awarded $100 in funding.

Dennis O’Connell ’16 – “Smooth Seas,” high quality, nautical themed merchandise, which is influenced by sea experiences. Awarded $700 in funding.

Ryan Tinklepaugh ’16 – “Search Engine,” a personalized search engine for online users.

Lincoln Young ’14 – “Modular Picnic Kit,” a service for restaurant-goers to enjoy meals within a special occasion picnic experience.

“The IdeaLab really helped the students get to that next level,” says CCL Director Susan Pliner. “Overall, the quality of The Pitch proposals was very high this year, largely because all 10 IdeaLab participants submitted their proposals to The Pitch. The innovation, focus on entrepreneurial leadership, and collaborative nature of the IdeaLab has made a huge difference for these students. They felt prepared enough to submit their ideas to The Pitch.”

Pliner says Lieblein’s involvement and seed-funding support have helped propel both programs this fall, serving as an added incentive for students to participant early in the preparatory work of the IdeaLab where their ideas could be further developed prior to The Pitch.

This semester, the IdeaLab was the perfect setting for students to get their ideas work-shopped by the faculty, staff and alums that led various sessions, says CCL Associate Director Amy Forbes. Considering the amount of work and commitment needed to take part in The Pitch, she says that getting that critical feedback, especially from their peers in the lab, was essential for advancing the student ideas.

“For the students, the IdeaLab emphasizes that entrepreneurship is a very collaborative process,” Forbes says. “Growth doesn’t happen in quite the same way if you never let your idea out to receive critical feedback. In the IdeaLab, the students were really honest with each other about the potential as well as the flaws within their ideas. It was a very constructive environment.”

Forbes says the IdeaLab student selection committee was also vital towards establishing a peer-to-peer collaboration environment in IdeaLab program.

This year, members of the IdeaLab Student Selection Committee include Julie Baghajian ’15, Daniel Budmen ’15, Cece-Carksy Bush ’16, Caroline Connor ’16, Patrick Sharry ’14, Clover Quigley ’15 and Kyle Zaverton ’15.

“The final proposals are a testament to the entrepreneurial leaders that all of the participants have become,” the committee notes. “The student selection committee recognizes that this is the first of many ideas each of the participants will have. We encourage all of the participants to continue to develop their existing ideas and we look forward to seeing what comes next.”

As students continue to pursue their entrepreneurial goals at HWS, whether by participating in the IdeaLab or in The Pitch, Lieblein has a few words of advice for those students who want to successfully make it to the next level.

“One of the most important traits the students should have throughout this whole process is humility,” Lieblein says. “As an undergraduate student, you won’t know everything, but what’s great is that you can have access to all the people who do. You’re not a financer, or a lab tech, or a scientist. Anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur can’t just stay in their dorm room. They need to reach out to the right people.”