Read the original story in the Portland Business Journal here.
Omar Martinez Barrera ran smack into a problem last year that derails many entrepreneurs.
He wanted to expand his general contracting business, Casa Bonita LLC, beyond minor home renovations into commercial projects and government work. He didn’t have the cash or time to figure out how to do it.
Instead of ditching the plan, he applied for help from a new program at Portland State University that matches seniors in the business school with local companies.
The program is a requirement before graduation and has already helped local businesses with everything from market research to financial plans.
It’s part of a much broader move by the university to crank up the entrepreneurial efforts of faculty and students, a strategy that could galvanize the city’s robust startup scene, launch more companies, create jobs and ultimately help shore up the city’s wobbly economy.
Among the other entrepreneurial efforts at Portland State:
- Shelley Gunton, who co-founded Clackamas-based pet food company Castor & Pollux, was recently hired to launch the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a university-wide hub for those seeking to launch a new business.
- The university’s business accelerator is the state’s hottest location for venture capital activity. A November story in the Business Journal reported it’s home to 10 companies that have raised money from outside investors in the past three years.
- The university’s relatively new Social Innovation Incubator, essentially a business incubator for nonprofits and social services organizations, was heralded in a recent issue of Fast Company magazine.
- The business and engineering schools are increasingly collaborating to build businesses on the backs of the innovations of the university’s faculty and students. The groups are working on plans for a startup weekend on campus.
- The university is organizing a business plan competition that will likely be held in December.
- Portland State is adding more classes on entrepreneurship, including bootcamp classes and week-long seminars.
- More guest speakers on topics like entrepreneurship will be on campus in the near future.
- This month, Portland State students launched an entrepreneurs club.
Gunton, who sold the majority stake in Castor & Pollux in 2008, is a staff of one at this point.
Her first task is to map all of the resources on campus for entrepreneurs. She’s been surprised at the size of the map, which extends into unlikely places like the Department of English, which has an entrepreneurial publishing component.
Gunton sees the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a classic startup. In the next six months, she needs to finish the map and write a business plan. She’ll eventually present the business plan to university officials and ask for funding to continue her efforts.
“What the center is going to try and do is help catalyze efforts and provide entrepreneurs with the tools they need to potentially either commercialize technology or look at other opportunities, such as licensing,” she said. “Hopefully it will create jobs and elevate PSU’s profile as a go-to destination for anyone interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.”
One of the biggest parts of the university’s new entrepreneurial focus is the capstone project that all undergraduates in the business school must complete.
Graduating seniors at Portland State have had to complete a capstone course for years. Typically the projects have been tasks such as volunteering or tutoring.
This year, the university decided to put an entrepreneurial bent on the capstone projects for business students.
Instead of community service projects, business students now take a course — BA495 — in which they’re broken up into teams of around 16 and assigned a specific task for a local business.
Since launching this fall, students have worked with companies ranging from software startups to manufacturing companies. The course lasts 11 weeks. Projects have included market research, business plans and drafting fundraising strategies.
Businesses say the capstone projects fill a crucial void. Established businesses have the resources to hire consultants to write business plans and study short-term problems. Startups don’t.
Casa Bonita’s Barrera said the work students did for him answered questions like how much insurance he needs to get commercial work. They also drafted a marketing plan and wrote a timeline for when he should hire his first employee.
“It’s like a secondary business plan with more details,” he said.
Another project was analyzing the operations of the new Rogue pub on campus.
“They did a good job. They didn’t pull any punches, which is what I think you want to hear,” said Rogue President Brett Joyce.
There’s no cost to businesses to participate in the program. Program coordinator Bill Jones said the university wants to work with a range of businesses in order for students to get exposed to a variety of industries.
“The idea is to give our students a rich experience of completing a business project with all the risks,” Jones said. “It’s not hermetically sealed.”
Jones, who’s also a business consultant on climate change issues, runs the capstone program with Melissa Appleyard.
Portland State plans to run the program for three years before deciding whether to commit to it permanently.
The buzz around entrepreneurship stems from the 2008 hiring of President Wim Wiewel.
One of Wiewel’s first hires was Jon Fink to the new position of vice president of research and strategic partnerships.
Fink came to Portland from Arizona State University, where he was credited with expanding the university’s research efforts and its role in the region’s economic development.
Last year Fink hired Erin Flynn as associate vice president for strategic partnerships. Flynn formerly worked as urban development director for the Portland Development Commission.
Faculty members and administrators said the moves set the tone for the new focus on entrepreneurship and more collaboration with the business community.
“Wim, very wisely in my opinion, had a vice president of research and replaced that with a vice president of research and strategic partnerships in Jon Fink,” said Scott Dawson, dean of the School of Business Administration, who called the hires “game-changers.”
“We’re starting to get the components in place,” he said.