WSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship Celebrates 25 Years
Center for Entrepreneurship has been teaching students to think and act like entrepreneurs — skills they can use throughout a career, whether or not they work for a startup.
“I see entrepreneurship education — especially the hands-on aspect — as the best way for students to develop their potential,” says Marie Mayes, Center for Entrepreneurship director. “It’s the spark that encourages them to step outside their comfort zones, take initiative, and deal with ambiguity.”
Whether they’re pitching a hypothetical product in a business plan competition or working toward a venture launch, students are mastering skills that will benefit them wherever their career paths lead, she says.
Creating a Legacy in Entrepreneurship
Mayes is the fourth director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, which is celebrating its silver anniversary.
The center was founded in 1995 by Rom Markin, a former Carson College dean who also was the first director. Initial funding to support entrepreneurship faculty came from the estate of WSU alumnus James Huber. Additional funding from Don and Mary Ann Parachini, Dan Castles, and The Herbert B. Jones Foundation has allowed the Center for Entrepreneurship to grow programs and resources for student entrepreneurs. Their generosity has benefited thousands of students.
Grasping the Fundamentals of a Startup
The Center for Entrepreneurship offers a range of programming—from helping freshmen and sophomores explore what it means to be an entrepreneur to mentoring teams on the cusp of launching a company. But the annual Business Plan Competition is perhaps the best known program.
Jerman Rose, a former Center for Entrepreneurship director, started the competition in 2002 to teach students the fundamentals of launching a startup. Through connections with WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering, the competition has grown to attract multidisciplinary teams and students across majors.
Engineering students often bring ideas for new products to the competition, teaming up with business majors and others to develop plans with marketing strategies and financial statements.
“Students sometimes see their classes as academic exercises,” says Rose, a clinical professor and special assistant to the dean. “They have a hard time figuring out how things fit together. We provide that opportunity.”
Honing Skills Through Practice
Mayes enjoys watching students gain skills and confidence. In addition to financial statements and marketing goals, a business plan might require creating a prototype or writing code. Students also practice communicating and problem-solving.
As part of refining their plans, students interview prospective customers. Based on the feedback, “there could be changes to the product or marketing plans,” says Mayes.
Students also practice pitching their plans to live audiences. “I’m glad you made us pitch so much,” students tell Mayes after they graduate. The public speaking skills help them in job interviews and work presentations.
Feedback from industry professionals who judge the competition is valuable, too, Mayes says. Graduates who’ve launched startups mention how much they appreciated the critiques, suggestions, and mentoring from the judges.
Although the 2020 competition was canceled because of COVID-19, teams still submitted plans and received feedback. Seventeen teams applied to the virtual Jones Milestone Accelerator (JMA), and seven were accepted. JMA teams are moving their learning to venture launch. The top four teams will pitch their ventures at an event in November.
In the next 25 years, the Center for Entrepreneurship envisions cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset and growing cross-campus, collaborative programs unique to WSU’s landgrant mission. Cougs from all majors will be supported in moving their ideas to impact.
– Marie Mayes
Center for Entrepreneurship Director
I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and Marie Mayes helped me turn my dream into a reality. The Center for Entrepreneurship gave me the resources to develop that entrepreneurial skillset and way of thinking.
– Ryan Yousefian
Business Plan Competition 2015 to 2020
592 college students participated
360 high school students participated
$315,000 in prize money
17 events held, 2019–2020
Programs and Services
208 individuals participated in Center for Entrepreneurship programs, accessed resources, or worked in the Commons in 2019–2020.
2020 Guest Speakers:
- Dan Castles, CEO, Telestream
- Thor Culverhouse, CEO, Lighter Capital
- Chris Hopen, CEO and Cofounder, Strive
- Diane Fraiman, Managing Director, Voyager Capital
- Dan Lynch, International Venture Capital Investor
- Dan Wadkins, Attorney/Partner, Lee & Hayes
- Tom Simpson, CEO, Ignite, Entrepreneur, Angel Investor & Mentor
- Chip Overstreet, CEO, Spiceology
Milestones and Firsts
$2.7 million in venture capital: Nomad Go Inc. The start-up uses artificial intelligence to measure customer experiences. Cofounded by Jonah Friedl (’16).
Crimson Medical Solutions’ organization system for intravenous lines is being tested at Pullman Regional Medical Center. Cofounded by 2019 graduates Mitchell Weholt, Tyler Sager, Stephen Bone, and Tanner Stahl.
Second place/$3,000: Team Zephyr. 2020 Northwest Entrepreneur Competition in the Avista Technology category for a mattress and bedframe designed for people with ALS. Cofounded by 2020 graduates Jackson Rieb, Kathryn Lober, and Sarah Schroeder.
$25,000 UW Dempsey Startup Competition Grand Prize: ApnoMed. $15,000 IntuitiveX Grand Prize, Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge. Both for a nonsurgical treatment aiming to cure sleep apnea. Herbert B. Jones Foundation $2,500 prize for best idea for a medical device. Founded by Ryan Yousefian (’17).
Ways to get Involved
- Make email introductions for student teams
- Serve on an advisory board for a Jones Milestone Accelerator team
- Help us make connections to people in your networks
- Sponsor or speak at Lunch & Learns or guest lectures hosted by Center for Entrepreneurship
- Review business plans/executive summaries/pitch decks
- To support the Center for Entrepreneurship, visit go.wsu.edu/cespartner