See how Auburn’s Entrepreneurship Program is encouraging new business growth in Alabama

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Auburn / New Venture Accelerator
At Auburn, entrepreneurship is all about community. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

At Auburn University, student entrepreneurs are developing “the next big thing,” with help from the Harbert College of Business’ Entrepreneurship Program. We took a trip to Auburn to see entrepreneurship in action—keep reading to learn more!

What makes Auburn’s Entrepreneurship Program unique?

Auburn
Auburn University’s new Horton-Hardgrave Hall, where resources like the Innovation Lab are available to student entrepreneurs. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

At Auburn University, students are transforming their ideas into real-world businesses.

Although Entrepreneurship was (and still is) a curriculum at Auburn for many years, recent years have seen the program evolve into an “Entrepreneurship Community,” where student entrepreneurs can take advantage of a number of experiences and opportunities, such as:

  • Innovation Lab — Located in the brand-new Horton-Hardgrave Hall, the Innovation Lab provides space for students to work and learn about entrepreneurship in a team setting.
  • Tiger Cage — Modeled after the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” Tiger Cage is a competition that guides student entrepreneurs through creating business plans & financial models before they pitch their ideas to industry professionals and potential investors. The best part? Students can win a share of more than $50,000 in early-stage, non-dilutive funding during Tiger Cage!
  • New Venture Accelerator — 7,000 square-feet of office space in Auburn’s Research and Innovation Center at The Park. At the New Venture Accelerator, students can focus on building their startup, learn how to create a business model, pitch to investors and much more. In fact, the New Venture Accelerator even offers office space for growing startups!

It’s all part of an “Entrepreneurship Pipeline” that gently guides Auburn’s budding entrepreneurs towards a brighter future.

Turning to the Experts

To learn more about why Auburn University’s Entrepreneurship Program is so special, we turned to those who know it best:

  • Franz Lohrke, Lowder Eminent Scholar and Professor of Entrepreneurship
  • Joshua Sahib, Managing Director at the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship

Tell us about the Auburn Entrepreneurship Program. What does it hope to foster in students?

Joshua: “At Auburn, our Entrepreneurship Program is designed to get students passionate about entrepreneurship and show them that there are less-traditional career paths out there. That ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ will stick with them after graduation, whether they go down a traditional career path or branch out to start their own business.”

Franz: “With the Entrepreneurship Program, we want to serve as a pipeline—fostering students’ ideas, coaching their growth and connecting them with resources and people that can help them. Entrepreneurship can be very challenging, so it’s important to have that positive feedback; ‘Yes, I can get up in front of investors, pitch my idea and win funding.'”

Auburn / New Venture Accelerator
At Auburn, student entrepreneurs are working on game-changing inventions, like Vulcan Line Tools’ Wave Timer. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

What does the Entrepreneurship Program look for in students? What can student entrepreneurs expect to learn?

Franz: “Entrepreneurship is a big part of Auburn’s history, and we’ve made big steps to make it available to anyone on campus. Game-changing ideas can come from anywhere, so we’ve opened Entrepreneurship to all students, whether they’re majoring in Math, Computer Science, Forestry, Music, Engineering or anything in-between.”

Joshua: “It varies from student to student, but we like to focus on practical skills. How do you build your first website? How do you go about branding? When do I start marketing? As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to feel isolated—luckily, we have a thriving entrepreneurial community here. Our student clubs and network of faculty, teachers and mentors are there to help coach our student entrepreneurs through any obstacle they’re facing.”

What are some of the unique opportunities and experiences that Auburn students can utilize with the Entrepreneurship Program?

Franz: “The Entrepreneurship Program is so much more than coursework. Yes, you have actual classroom learning, but there is so much more that students can take advantage of. For example, we have events like Tiger Cage where students can pitch their businesses and win funding. And while they’re growing their business, they can utilize our world-class facilities like the New Venture Accelerator and the Innovation Lab at Horton-Hardgrave Hall.

Even students who don’t think they want to start their own business can benefit tremendously from Auburn University’s Entrepreneurship program. Large companies, not-for-profits, and all other organizations need innovative thinkers. That’s what we work on the most at Auburn…developing each student’s entrepreneurial mindset.”

Joshua: “I think the chance to actually win funding is very attractive for entrepreneurs here at Auburn. Funding from Tiger Cage is non-dilutive, so Auburn doesn’t take an equity stake in any business. That funding might give student entrepreneurs the extra boost they need to build a prototype, get incorporated or submit their app to the App Store. Whether they win or lose, these competitions are a great way for student entrepreneurs to hone their skills and improve their businesses.”

Auburn / New Venture Accelerator
Daniel Mazur, one half of the duo behind SwiftSKU, hard at work in Auburn’s New Venture Accelerator. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

What are some of the Entrepreneurship Program’s “success stories”?

Franz: “We’ve had so many success stories, it’s hard to choose! We had one startup, SwiftSKU, win the Rice Business Plan Competition earlier this year. That’s basically the Super Bowl of pitch competitions. Now, they’ve raised over $3.2 million—and they haven’t even graduated yet!

Another recent example is YellowCard, which was founded by two former Auburn University students. YellowCard is a cryptocurrency exchange in 12 African countries with plans to expand to more, where currency is often volatile and hard to exchange across borders. With YellowCard, people can start securely saving their financial assets, which is essential to developing a functional economy. YellowCard is literally changing the world.”

Want to Learn More about Auburn’s Entrepreneurship Program?

Auburn / New Venture Accelerator
At Auburn, student entrepreneurs are constantly helping each other be the best entrepreneur they can be. Photo via Nathan Watson for Bham Now

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Want to learn more about what it means to be an entrepreneur at Auburn University? Click here or reach out to the program directors to learn more:

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Nathan Watson
Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.
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