By Becca Downs, Spoke City Writing
In a year without the COVID-19 pandemic, young entrepreneurs would typically have an abundance of opportunities to join internships or pitch competitions in which they could hone their skills, share their innovative ideas and receive feedback from seasoned professionals. In an effort to give this year’s students that same opportunity, IU Ventures partnered with Elevate Ventures and The Mill — companies dedicated to supporting growing businesses in Indiana — to repurpose the quarterly Elevate Origins program and grant students some of the opportunities lost this summer.
The program, Origins EDU, provided IU Bloomington and IUPUI students a chance to share their startup ideas. Out of the nine students who applied, five were selected to receive one-on-one coaching on pitching and developing their business plans. They also participated in group sessions over the course of four weeks to develop a pitch deck and an executive summary.
“Supporting entrepreneurs is fundamental to what we do at The Mill,” said Melissa Ward, one of the program coordinators and head of initiatives and partnerships at The Mill. “Helping these students build their early-stage companies with great partners like IU Ventures and Elevate Ventures is an opportunity you won’t find in a typical internship. Origins EDU helped these students turn the setbacks of a pandemic into exciting opportunities.”
Not only did the students gain valuable feedback from coaches and companies, they also learned a lot from each other.
“We really enjoyed learning from all of the participants and coaches from the program,” said Andrew Komarov, an IU Bloomington student participant. Komarov’s startup idea, Kinetworks, is a digital platform that would allow fitness and sport coaches to connect with their clients worldwide through video content and live coaching.
ShuffleMe, a predictive software to bring self-awareness to social media users, is the brainchild of Britain Taylor, another IU Bloomington student participant. Like Komarov, Taylor appreciated the feedback the program provided.
“Participating in the Origins EDU program provided advice, guidance and mentorship to us early-stage startups,” Taylor said. “The program encourages CEOs to look at their company from a holistic point of view in preparation of pitching in front of investors.”
Another company that pitched was IU Bloomington student Joshua Ciolko’s URaffle, an online raffle platform for resale items and valuables; Ciolko is an IU Bloomington student. EDsie, pitched by Priya Geetha of IUPUI, is a B2B, AI-based SaaS company to help education counselors and high school students. Casey Curtis of IU Bloomington pitched Elevate, a hands-free mobile app that reduces wait time and increases efficiency in buildings.
Lou Lenzi, a professor at the School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI, was pleased to see that a few of his students were able to participate in this event.
“Origins EDU not only excelled in filling a critical educational need created by the pandemic, it offered our young entrepreneurs a level of training, exposure and encouragement that could not possibly be received anywhere else,” he said.
The four weeks students spent focusing on their startup ideas at Origins EDU encouraged the young entrepreneurs to continue setting their sights high, despite the setbacks driven by the pandemic.
Landon Young, director of university initiatives and entrepreneur-in-residence for Elevate Ventures, said students will be able to continue with future Elevate programming.
“The Origins EDU pilot allowed us to partner with other investors and entrepreneurship support organizations to test how our Origins program can be tailored specifically to students, many of whom have seen job opportunities reduced because of COVID-19,” he said.
“The students showed tremendous creativity in the face of uncertainty, and they worked hard to create investor-ready business models and pitch decks. In fact, several were invited to join our traditional Origins pre-accelerator. Based on the success of the pilot program, we have decided to launch a statewide Origins EDU program this fall.”
Young said Elevate Origins, the pre-accelerator program from Elevate Ventures to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs to launch Indiana startups, is being expanded to include college students.
“After a successful pilot program this summer, we are opening enrollment for fall 2020. Interested higher education partners can now add the virtual Origins programming to their curriculum offering,” Young said. “Elevate Origins can help students understand what it takes to launch a successful startup and give them the tools to develop a business model, pitch deck and executive summary. Onboarding for partner schools starts Aug. 21, and the program dates are Sept. 4 – Oct. 23.”