Minnesota business leaders will assist science, technology, engineering, and math students in developing new technologies and products through a new University of Minnesota program.
 
The recently launched program, Minnesota Innovation Corps (MIN-Corps), aims to provide students with resources such as industry leader expertise and a seed funding application process to test the commercial marketability of their product prototypes.
 
Three University of Minnesota departments oversee the program: the Carlson School of Management’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, the College of Science and Engineering (CSE), and the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC).
 
Part of the MIN-Corps program will be a 14-week course called “Startup,” which will begin with the spring 2014 semester and will allow students the opportunity to meet with potential customers and partners to test the marketability of their products.
 
OTC Executive Director Jay Schrankler told Twin Cities Business that the course, offered through the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, is available to all undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Minnesota. Between 20 and 30 students have already signed up, Schrankler said.
 
Course participants work in small teams and are assigned “industry mentors” — business leaders with entrepreneurial, industrial, engineering, legal, and other backgrounds—who help the teams identify resources and refine their business models. Teams comprise an “entrepreneurial lead,” which is the student with the marketable idea, and an “academic lead,” often a faculty member with knowledge related to a specific industry.
 
While Schrankler said that it’s too earlier to say which business leaders will be assisting Startup course participants, he said that individuals from companies such as Target and 3M are “certainly a possibility.”
 
Additionally, Schrankler said that teams can apply for up to $3,000 in seed funding to further develop their products and test their prototypes.
 
Schrankler said that the purpose of the trans-disciplinary MIN-Corps program is for students to fine-tune their prototypes before they consider launching their own business or product line. He added that the Startup course is an effort to provide students with real-world experience and product feedback opportunities from actual clients.
 
As an example, Schrankler mentioned the University of Minnesota researcher-developed Upstream Technologies. He said that if the company, which develops storm water products, had been created in the Startup course, the team would have brought a prototype of its storm water drain filter to various local municipalities. Then the members of the municipalities would offer the team suggestions on how to improve the prototype’s design, functionality, price, and other components, which the team could then use to refine its product or technology.
 
“We want to increase [the students’] chances of success,” Schrankler said. “We want them to learn how to drive before we give them the keys to the car.”
 
John Stavig, professional director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, said that the MIN-Corps program and Startup course are outlets for students to gain more than academic experience.
 
“Once students recognize the commercial potential of their ideas, they get really excited about the possibility of bringing them to life,” he told the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) at the University of Minnesota, in a blog post on the university’s website. “We are excited to harness the enthusiasm and budding expertise of our students to help them realize that not only are they learning about business, but that they might potentially grow their own businesses.”
 
According to the OVPR, 331 new inventions were disclosed, 148 new patents were filed, and 14 startup companies were launched through the University of Minnesota this year.
 
The university’s programs have connected students with other entrepreneurial events, including the Minnesota Cup—a statewide competition for startups and small businesses.
 
Nathan Conner, a University of Minnesota MBA student, initially developed the idea for a bed that uses electricity to collect pet hair through his work in the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship. Connor was this year’s Minnesota Cup $10,000 student division winner for his product, ShedBed.
 
Click here or check out the December issue of Twin Cities Business for in-depth coverage of this year’s Minnesota Cup.
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