Innovative summer program to “hire” student entrepreneurs to pursue ventures full-time
BUFFALO, NY – WNY Incubator Network (WIN), a consortium of the region’s business incubators, today announced the 2016 iteration of Buffalo Student Sandbox, a summer accelerator for scalable, disruptive ventures led by college and graduate students. The nine week accelerator, running from May 30 – July 29, 2016, will select promising teams of student entrepreneurs and provide them with stipends and mentors as they compete for cash prizes at the end of the program. The wp-contentlication is online at www.wnyincubators.com/Sandbox, with the initial deadline on March 1.
Entering into its second year, Buffalo Student Sandbox is modeled after a similar program in Syracuse. Eight teams were selected from a pool of more than 40 wp-contentlicants in 2015 and have raised capital and launched products since completing the program. Two graduates advanced to the semifinals of 43North, while five were selected to pitch at Bright Buffalo Niagara. Three graduates were selected in as finalists for the Buffalo leg of Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest tour, with one earning a $100,000 investment through that program.
Ventures looking to participate in the program must be led by a current undergrad, graduate student, or recent graduate, and will be evaluated based on their wp-contentlication, interviews, quality of the team, and overall commercial potential of their venture. For 2016, a special focus will be on recruiting teams that have formed and committed to working on a venture over individuals working on their own. Participants are required to treat Student Sandbox as their primary commitment during the program.
The program will be administered by WIN and the UB Office of Economic Development, hosted in the dig cowork and event space at the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center, and include participation in the UB Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Startup CEL course. Student Founders will spend their days working independently on their ventures, but will also benefit from the structure of the Startup CEL course, receive help from mentors, and participate in weekly board meetings with experienced entrepreneurs. At several milestones throughout the program, teams will compete for additional resources to be used for the development of their businesses.
Organizers will seek teams from the region’s colleges and universities, as well as programs including Startup Weekend and Student 2 Biz, a business plan competition facilitated by the WNY College Connection and sponsored by WIN.
“This is not an academic exercise, but rather an opportunity for students to experience the entrepreneurial process in real time,” said Tom Ulbrich, executive director of UB’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “There are no tests, grades or homework for these founders, but we will expect great things from them.”
For Vic Nole, director of business development for Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Inc., which operates the Innovation Center and dig, Buffalo Student Sandbox represents an opportunity for Western New York’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to shine. “Selected teams will complete an intense summer program focused on product development and input from potential customers,” he said. “Our program focuses on building market-driven companies that will thrive in the real world.”
Tom Murdock is UB’s incubator network manager and sees the program as a chance for students to take major steps forward. “Last year, with no track record, we received more than 40 wp-contentlications to take part in this program, and this year, we plan to select only the most cohesive and promising companies,” he said. “We’re looking for teams who have already demonstrated some progress and are determined to succeed.”