DSU makes plans to help tech entrepreneurs succeed - Daily Leader Extra : Top Stories

DSU makes plans to help tech entrepreneurs succeed

By MARY GALES ASKREN, Staff Reporter | Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 2:35 pm

Dakota State University doesn't plan to educate its students and then let them sink or swim -- especially those who come up with ideas for new businesses.

Instead, if awarded the funding requested for 2021, the university plans to establish a Cyber Cync Incubator and Entrepreneurial Center in the Heartland Technology Center. The center will foster technological entrepreneurship emerging from the research and development being done at the Madison Cyber Labs, scheduled to open later this fall.

"It's a concept that will provide a supportive structure for entrepreneurs," explained Richard Hanson, dean of the Beacom College of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

He and DSU President Jos‚-Marie Griffiths sat down earlier this week to explain the concept for which DSU requested $396,073 during informal budget hearings earlier this summer. The concept grows out of a vision for the university that is both pragmatic and bold. That vision is reflected, in part, in decisions made for the MadLabs.

"Part of it is our choice to focus our efforts on applied R&D as opposed to theoretical R&D," Griffiths explained. "R&D in the MadLabs is very problem driven and applicable to the real world, marketable potentially as a service or product."

With research and development leading to services and products that are marketable, and the Heartland Technology Center available for use by start-up businesses, administrators began to consider how to increase the likelihood that fledgling businesses would succeed. Discussions with one of their partners about an effort on the East Coast provided them the framework for the current proposal, according the Hanson.

"We saw the parallels here," he said. "We have kind of a mini research park."

One of the functions of a research park is to provide support in myriad ways, such as helping individuals develop business plans and marketing strategies, helping them to network with others who are experiencing the same growing pains, and connecting them with venture capitalists who can help finance their businesses.

"We already have interest in the Heartland Technology Center from small start-ups and companies that want to leverage the use of our students," Griffiths said.

The Entrepreneurial Center would provide support for those efforts. The funding requested will enable the university to hire a coordinator to facilitate those activities and services.

"We would intend to generate enough revenue to cover the costs after three years," Griffiths said.

A key component of the center would be mentorships. The coordinator would help to develop a network of individuals willing to come in and help the business start-ups.

"You have to help people build a business plan and help young entrepreneurs understand what it is to be in business," Griffiths said.

Many don't understand how business works or have access to venture capitalists. Too, they're often challenged by performance issues, especially if they hire friends who may take advantage of their relationship to shirk their responsibilities.

"When you've hired your friends, how do you talk to them?" Griffiths asked to illustrate her point.

Failure isn't the only outcome which can challenge entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs with little or no business experience.

"If you're very successful, how do you cope with the growth of business? How do you sustain it in the long run?" Griffiths asked, identifying other challenges.

Mentors can help entrepreneurs navigate those waters, according to Hanson.

"We're hoping to reduce the failure rate," he explained.

In addition to the benefits of having mentors, entrepreneurs will benefit from the opportunity to network with one another, according to Griffith.

"I think it's always important for people to be with people like themselves," she said, noting this is already happening with the MadLabs.

Researchers are interacting across projects. She believes the same thing will happen with the Cyber Cync Incubator.

"You're going to have a variety of different people with ideas for start-ups who can share experiences and cross-pollinate ideas of what works and what might not work," she explained.

Finally, the Entrepreneurial Center will also strengthen partnerships. Hanson noted the MadLabs have been built on partnerships and the same dynamic will be at work in the center.

"Partnership is what makes things work. You can't do it by yourself anymore. It just doesn't work," he said.

All of this will benefit both the student population and Madison community. Students will benefit not only by having job opportunities, but also by what they will witness.

"The Cyber Cync Incubator is a great opportunity for folks who develop concepts in the MadLabs to put them to use. It's a great opportunity for students to watch the process," Hanson said, noting that some students may become entrepreneurs themselves.

The Madison community will benefit from the growth which will result.