The Hatch: Fueling Student Entrepreneurship

Thursday, February 25, 2016, 8:36 am
By: 
Ashley Carlini

 

The Hatch is a space designed to aid undergraduate Michigan State University students in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Located on the third floor of 325 E. Grand River Avenue, Suite 345, the space gives students 24 hour access to the co-working space to utilize their various resources and to start their businesses.

Part of MSU Innovations, The Hatch has an initial three-step process: discovery, validation, and launch. This process provides invaluable resources including mentors, help with taxes and legal aid, in the hopes to take students from an initial idea to a successful business.

Paul Jaques, the Director of Student and Community Engagement at Spartan Innovations and himself the owner of a few different start-ups, explained the process. “When the students come in here, and they have an idea they want to pitch, it could be a physical product, it could be an app, it could be a website, food, you name it—any major—they come in and they pitch their idea. And they don’t have to be the expert at all on this idea.” These ideas start the beginning of the three-step process, where students must submit a short application online and then are walked through the realization of their ideas.

“We have them hit certain milestones,” Jaques explained, “we have them doing a business model canvas, where they’re talking to at least ten potential clients or customers, they’re uploading a video (which is Sparty Pitch) on our website, and then they’re attending entrepreneurial events.” Spartan Innovations holds many different entrepreneurial events throughout the year, from mixers to career fairs, and even an influential speaker series. These events are designed to get students excited and inspired about entrepreneurship and to connect them with mentors and peers.

“Once they get through that,” said Jaques, “they move on to stage two, and that’s when the resources start coming in. That’s when you get access to all the student interns that we have, which range from graphic design to web coding, and we even have an app developer.” These students are paid interns who work with their peers as part of the resources that The Hatch provides and can help with marketing, event planning, and web design.

Jaques acknowledges that there are even more hurdles that the students will encounter as they continue the development of an idea into a business, so The Hatch offers more: “as they’re going on, they need prototyping, they need travel, they need marketing materials, and they need software. You name it; we look to pay for all of that. We get to do that because we have two endowments to the University called Gerstacker and Forest Akers. Those two foundations gave money to the University specifically for MSU undergraduate students to start companies.”

The Hatch has only been in existence for the past three years, so it is still very new to the community. In the past three years, though, 480 teams have gone through the program, and The Hatch itself has kept growing and evolving. Stickers of various start-ups that students have created are scattered on the back windows, inspiring students who are just beginning. The space itself is geared to inspire creativity; there are different work stations as well as hang-out areas to encourage students to work and get to know one another, and there are numerous free amenities.

“The space is the biggest thing; we allow twenty four hour access to students to work on their ideas, and that’s huge. All of the amenities we have, too; coffee, Wi-Fi, printing, AutoCAD software, the 3D printer, and they can use it as their business address because we have a mailroom, which I think is a pretty big deal. Every year we try to add something new.” Jaques hopes that MSU’s Minor in Entrepreneurship, which opened to all majors last semester, will encourage more students to come to The Hatch and to go through the process.

A work station with the 3D printer, which students were using for a new water bottle design.

Besides the events that the MSU Innovation Center brings onto campus, The Hatch takes students to International Conferences and businesses. “We take a team down to SXSW in Austin, Texas every year. “This year there are twenty students going down and we’ll be taking the MSU Startup Bus. There is also a team that will be going out to Microsoft’s Headquarters in Washington and then several other speakers we bring in for the students,” said Jaques. These students, who show promise and dedication in their ideas, are able to share these ideas nationally, which is another unique aspect of this program.

In fact, one of the students who has gone to SXSW in the past has found success with his start-up. “We have one project called Roze Incorporated that is one of the top eight in the nation down at SXSW. He’s doing a sensor on doors, where he was running into problems in his suite on campus; there are no locks on the doors. He was running into students and was feeling uncomfortable, so he has a sensor app where you can see on your phone if somebody is in the room or not.”

This idea has now escalated from the initial dorm room concept, says Jaques, “he’s thinking now of incorporating it with firefighters and emergency people, where they can go in and see if there are live individuals or movement before they go into a fire.” This is only one of many ideas that students are working on, and Jaques tells me there are even a couple of new ideas involving drones.

While students only have until the end of their undergraduate careers at MSU to take advantage of The Hatch, Jaques hopes that the ideas that have gone through the process on campus will continue after graduation, and an accelerator program called Conquer Accelerator may help with that. It takes five teams and gives them $20,000 each in exchange for 5% equity in the company. They then continue on a ten-week program during the summer to keep working on their concepts after graduation, and are given access to valuable mentors.

“The mentors are huge,” said Jaques, “they are the biggest part. There are about 36 mentors and there are some heavy hitters. Some are students that I have known from the past that have gone through the accelerator themselves; some are influential alumni who have their name on the football field, so it’s a good mix.”

If you’re not a student but live locally and what to be a part of The Hatch, don’t fret. As part of an initiative to help local entrepreneurs and keep them in the Lansing area, Spartan Innovations presents The Hatching the last Thursday of every month at Dublin Square. At these public events participants are able to submit a new business idea for the chance to win $1,000. Five ideas are chosen to compete each month, and all you need is a good idea and a convincing pitch.