Wisconsin college students are immersed in an environment that fosters creativity, innovation and collaboration, and they are increasingly bucking the trends of previous generations. Instead of focusing solely on classes, many students across all majors are choosing to act on their multifaceted interests and ideas, taking risks and challenging themselves not only academically, but also professionally.
With a wide array of resources and extracurricular opportunities, college campuses statewide offer the perfect setting to plant and grow students’ entrepreneurial spirit, as evidenced by the large number of business organizations and startups cropping up throughout Wisconsin.
“A lot of my peers on campus don’t want the status quo: come to college, go through the system, get a degree and just be spit out into the job force. They want to pursue their own passions and do their own thing – and maybe build something of their own and create jobs that way,” said Corey Parris, the acting president of the UW-Stevens Point Entrepreneurs Club.
The student-run club, which got its start last year, is just one example of the kind of industrious thinking going on throughout the state. With a recently renovated space housing five startup offices and a conference room, the group aims to inspire more people to test out and improve their business models by offering a business incubator for student entrepreneurs. Furthermore, they look forward to cultivating opportunities for like-minded peers to network with each other and, on a larger scale, to help drive economic development throughout the state by enhancing students’ entrepreneurial experiences while in school.
“It’s about connecting and letting people know that entrepreneurship isn’t just building a business and making a profit for yourself. It’s about coming up with innovative ways to solve larger problems,” said Ciana Rose, the acting vice president at UWSP Entrepreneurs Club.
Of course, the larger problems Rose brings up are best solved through collaboration, and students on college campuses benefit from being surrounded by peers who are leaders in more than just business. A perfect example of the fruitful results of the intersection of different passions can be seen in UW-Madison’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, which gives startups access to quality legal services for free.
The program pairs entrepreneurs with second- and third-year law students who, under the leadership of mentors, provide free legal advice to startups looking to launch. The initiative provides invaluable experience for law students, while also offering early-stage businesses vital assistance in getting off the ground.
“It’s really a great balance of getting good feedback and having opportunities to collaborate, while at the same time inspiring you to become a little more self-reliant,” said Student Legal Advisor Olivia Mote.
The success of the UW-Madison clinic inspired nearby Marquette University to open its own Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic in early 2015, giving students in the area similar opportunities for development.
Students and faculty in Milwaukee also have financial support of their entrepreneurial ventures through the Marquette Enterprise Seed Fund, a program administered through Marquette University with the goal of increasing the number of businesses coming out of the school’s academic and research departments.
The program was founded with assistance from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s (WEDC’s) Capital Catalyst program, which will offer grants of $25,000 or $50,000 to ventures that have established legal business entities.
“As we continue to boost research and innovation at Marquette, particularly around those projects with commercial potential, seed funding like this has become increasingly important,” said Dr. Jeanne Hossenlopp, Marquette’s vice president for research and innovation. “Our president, Mike Lovell, believes firmly that collaborative partnerships like this one with WEDC will be the key to unlocking Marquette’s potential to bring transformative solutions to the marketplace.”