UC Santa Cruz Startup Academy Trains Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

The Summer Entrepreneurship Academy is an eight-week, Web-based course that will guide 10 students through the process of developing, vetting and pitching a business idea.

by Ryan Masters, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif. / July 27, 2016

(TNS) -- In their book “The Rise of the Naked Economy,” Jeremy Neuner and Ryan Coonerty state that by 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. workforce will either freelance, consult or run their own businesses.

So when UC Santa Cruz Crown College Provost Manel Camps asked instructor Nada Miljkovic to pitch some course ideas in fall 2015, she was quick to suggest a hands-on introduction to entrepreneurship.

Camps loved the idea and brought Sue Carter, director of UCSC’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurial Development, on board to co-teach the course.

Carter had participated in a summer seminar taught by Silicon Valley startup guru and Stanford University instructor Steve Blank in 2011. Based on that experience, Carter and Miljkovic organized the course around Blank’s Lean LaunchPad curriculum.

After raising its own funding through the UCSC Foundation board of trustees, the Summer Entrepreneurship Academy was born in June. The eight-week, web-based course guides 10 students through the process of developing, vetting and pitching a business idea.

“We start with customer discovery and have the students research product and market fit,” Miljkovic said. “They quickly learn to pivot and reiterate their business idea based on what they learn from interviewing at least 20 potential customers.”

Margaret Ackroyd arrived at the Academy this summer with an idea to use nanotechnology to purify heavy metals from drinking water. After interviews with potential customers, including parents and other students, she discovered that everyone was primarily concerned with lead in tap water and would be willing to pay as much as $20 for a solution.

“After the tragedy at Flint, Michigan, most of the education about water quality was done for me,” Ackroyd said. “They didn’t really understand nanotechnology, but they did express concern about the current detection technology for water quality.”

Ackroyd realized nanotechnology wasn’t necessary to provide the product her customers wanted. As a result, she pivoted from her original idea to a filter that could simultaneously detect what was in the water.

Other student business ideas include a camera lens sharing app described as “Uber for photographers,” a Twitter-like platform that allows students to ask professors in large lecture halls and a virtual reality training system for first responders that also measures biometrics.

In early August, when the Academy concludes, each team will pitch its business idea to the rest of the class and possibly even an actual venture capitalist.

While the Academy already is funded for next summer, Miljkovic hopes it will become into a year-round program. She also plans to develop a partnership with the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program.

“This process represents the future of business,” Miljkovic said. “These are necessary job skills of the 21st century.”

The Summer Entrepreneurial Academy is open to UCSC graduate and undergraduate students, as well as members of the community. If you are interested in being involved as a student, member of the teaching team, principal investigator or business mentor, please contact Sue Carter at sacarter@ucsc.edu.

©2016 the Santa Cruz Sentinel Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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