The University of Memphis Crews Center for Entrepreneurship has taken what stakeholders said is a natural next step as part of acting as the university’s hub for commercializing ideas into successful startups.
The now four-year-old center has launched the Crews Center Catalyst (C3) Seed Fund, a source of funding meant to incentivize students and faculty members. The hope is they’ll apply, dip into the seed fund and go on to launch ideas, devices, processes or other activities.
Crews Center director Mike Hoffmeyer said an anonymous donor committed $100,000 to help launch the fund, which will operate a bit differently from other local sources of startup funding.
“These are micro-seed investments,” Hoffmeyer said. “The awards are generally up to $3,000, so if (the applicant) needs a particular piece of equipment or software or they need to travel to a certain location or whatever the case may be, it’s designed to remove some of those financial obstacles.”
Depending on whether the projects proposed need more research or they reflect a business model that’s already been vetted, the size of the funding awards will vary. A selection committee will accept and review the plans on a rolling basis. To get an award, individuals or teams have to include at least one current university student or faculty member.
As a complement to awarded funding, participating entrepreneurs will be assigned a mentor. They’ll also have access to the Crews Center staff and resources to help them develop their ideas and projects.
Crews Center advisory council chair John Bobango said the seed fund will help take entrepreneurship activity at the university “to another level.”
“The selection committee is composed of a few members of our advisory council, a couple of faculty members and myself and will actually make decisions on the awards,” Hoffmeyer said. “(The fund) is designed to be exactly what it’s named as – which is a catalyst.”
The seed fund’s next steps include putting a mechanism in place whereby students and faculty can apply for the funding. The coming weeks will see an application and other information available on the Crews Center website.
The center was launched in 2011 thanks to an initial investment by Harriett and Hilliard Crews. Its purpose is to encourage and support a culture of entrepreneurship at the U of M, and, as the seed fund launch shows, help turn ideas and passions into products and companies.
The center also is playing a broader role at the university, an example of which can be seen via a new social entrepreneurship course planned for this fall. It will be offered through a partnership between the Crews Center and the Division of Public and Nonprofit Administration and will expose students to things like raising capital for social ventures and design-based thinking.
Hoffmeyer said the Crews Center already is at a point where it needs to think about what it can do to expand its capacity to serve more students and entrepreneurs.
“That’s good news for the program. It means we’re doing something right.”