BSU’s Venture College invests in the future of student entrepreneurs.

By Pamela Kleibrink Thompson
Photography by Copper Chadwick

Two years ago, Mark Rudin, vice president of research and economic development at Boise State University, met Marshall Sinclair, a BSU art student who wanted to start a foundry. And Rudin had an idea – Boise State helps faculty with their business ideas, why not students? BSU president Bob Kustra wanted to find ways a student could earn a degree and still work toward launching a business. The result was Venture College.

A new student-focused mentoring program formed to nurture entrepreneurs; Venture College is available free to any full-time BSU student with a great idea and entrepreneurial drive. The first cohort is comprised of nine undergraduate students and five graduate students. The eight women and six men in the program come from all six colleges at BSU with majors in engineering, history, kinesiology, public administration, computer science and the health sciences. 

Venture College students participate in a two-hour Friday seminar focused on the elements of business and are coached on how to make an investment pitch. Collaboration is promoted among a diversified group of students who are expected to meet with one of the three program directors (Kevin Learned, Director; Mary Andrews, Associate Director, or Ed Zimmer, Associate Director) once a week for an hour, and invest seven to eight hours a week into developing their businesses.

A non-credit, one-year program administered by the Division of Research and Economic Development, Venture College will award a badge (a new type of evidentiary credential) at graduation to those students successfully completing the program. 

One of the key reasons for students to participate in Venture College is to make connections with the business community. More than 200 business leaders known as Venture College Angels are donating their time and expertise. A committee will review students’ plans and award early-stage capital to those with viable business proposals. The university will not receive any ownership in the company. 

“The intent of the program is to prepare students to launch a business,” shares Ed Zimmer, associate director of Venture College. “They will understand the process of evaluating ideas and be able to shift those ideas into revenue generating products or services.” The four non-profit ideas being explored are in the areas of public health addiction recovery, renewable energy sources, promoting women’s sexual health and empowerment, and conservation of insect and butterfly species. 

BSU is testing the viability of the students’ business models with a goal of launching sustainable businesses. Some of the key questions posed to the Venture College students are “What is your value proposition? Who values it? And who values it enough to pay for it?”

If the pilot program is a success, the university would look for federal grants and other money to increase the number of students in the program.

Students can apply for the 2014-2015 academic year starting around April 1.  Applicants will submit a 1,000-word essay articulating their business idea and a letter of recommendation. Selected applicants interview with Venture College staff and selected Venture College Angels. 

Zimmer concludes that if an applicant “can articulate and show passion for their business idea, is personable, has drive and will put in the effort, they’d be a good candidate for Venture College. We have great people in this inaugural class.” 

To learn more about the program, or to apply for Venture College, visit www.venturecollege.boisestate.edu.