Big Ideas

Given a chance, students will innovate, early and often

Brainstorming: A new initiative provides networking space and programming to encourage budding entrepreneurs.
Kay Hinton

Invention requires more than vision; it requires resources and support. Emory student entrepreneurs are finding those in adundance—right from their first day on campus.

During the past year, Emory has stepped up efforts to support undergraduate students who are seeking a network to help further their entrepreneurship interests. Raoul Hall, the newest First Year at Emory (FYE) residence hall, opened last fall as a Social Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community (LLC) designed “to inspire students to explore for- and not-for-profit businesses that provide innovative solutions to society’s most engaging problems.”

So far, it’s working. Rostam Zafari 18C moved into Raoul Hall in the fall already committed to the idea of social entrepreneurship. Inspired by a challenge issued on the first day of class in Introduction to Biology, Zafari and classmate Brian Goldstone 18C developed Rapid Ebola Detection Strips (REDS), a portable, fast, less expensive, user-friendly approach to detecting Ebola virus in the field. The duo is now beginning testing on the design.

“Addressing the world’s social issues is going to take creativity and innovation. It is so valuable to teach that in college because it challenges you to find new perspectives on ongoing problems,” Zafari says. “Bill Gates is a role model for me who has both the capital and the mind-set to solve problems in the world. He does good, and he does well, and he impacts millions, if not billions, of lives. That is what I want to do.”

Ambra Yarbrough, resident complex director for Raoul Hall, says the new LLC is staffed by specially chosen student and resident assistants and social entrepreneurship resident fellow Raj Ramakrishnan 16MBA.

“The goal of the Student Entrepreneurship Committee last year was to create an umbrella hub that all the entrepreneurship endeavors can fit within,” Yarbrough says. “Before this, students were just scrounging around campus finding anyone who was willing or interested in talking to them about their ideas and figuring out how to piece things together.”

Having the social entrepreneurship LLC “taps into a huge niche” at Emory for first- and second-year undergraduate students who want to start exploring innovation early.

“Students don’t really exist from nine to five, since they are usually in the classroom, but they really come alive after five p. m., which is when most administrators leave campus. To have us and the assistants available after hours, and running programs surrounding the topic of social entrepreneurship, allows them to think of things in a real-world aspect,” Yarbrough says.

Entrepreneurship efforts on campus have been spearheaded by the Committee on Undergraduate Student Entrepreneurship, cochaired by Andrea Hershatter, senior associate dean for undergraduate education at Goizueta Business School. One result was the Emory Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (E3), a program to coordinate resources and provide better support for students interested in business development—especially social entrepreneurship.

In January, Campus Life launched the E3 Living Labs, a communal space in Few Hall where like-minded student entrepreneurs can take advantage of networking opportunities to develop and implement their own ideas. On Tuesday evenings, students can listen to topical presentations by guest speakers who have entrepreneurial experience and engage in question-and-answer sessions. On Wednesdays and Thursday evenings, the Multimedia Den in Few Hall is reserved for peer-to-peer networking.

Survivor: Shark Tank contestant Kaeya Majmundar.

Kay Hinton

Emory College senior Kaeya Majmundar 15C, who last year appeared on the popular television show Shark Tank and who also served on the Student Entrepreneurship Committee, says the program expands the number of resources available to student entrepreneurs.

“There has been a lot of interest in entrepreneurship among students at Emory, but it has been scattered. This facilitates partnerships for students and provides education from people who are experienced,” says Majmundar. “There are a lot of things seasoned entrepreneurs can teach people who are just starting out. The more people we can bring in who have that experience, the better for students.”

Hershatter says the next step will be to establish an incubation space for entrepreneurship ventures that are more mature in their progress and need office space and equipment; then, potentially, a storefront for student ventures.

“The intention is to help students move from the pitch and conceptual stages through to having the resources to put together a plan,” she says. “E3 is helping students move those plans forward. These ideas are coming from freshmen and sophomores, and when they have these concepts, they don’t want to wait for their academic training to catch up. They have a real need to rapidly connect with intellectual resources to help them think about deployment.”—M.M.L.

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