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Entrepreneurship Training for NEWPATH students: E-Practicum

One of the key elements of the NEWPATH program is the training in entrepreneurial principles and practices that it provides to students. The culminating component of this training is the entrepreneurship practicum (e-practicum). This component is designed to provide an in-depth practical experience in IT entrepreneurship to NEWPATH students where they will have the opportunity to take an idea from concept to the brink of commercialization. The practicum will take place within the structure of a two-quarter course sequence. NEWPATH students will self-select into teams that will each coalesce around a common idea and interest. (A team could also have students from programs other than the NEWPATH majors.) Each team will be assigned an executive mentor and a proven entrepreneurial technology leader, who will coach the team from prototyping to product development and the commercialization process. These mentors will be drawn from TechColumbus personnel and staff of its affiliate companies, senior staff at The Ohio State University Office of Technology Licensing, executives from local industry (recruited by the Center for Entrepreneurship and Center for Enterprise Transformation and Innovation (CETI)) and faculty with industry and entrepreneurial experiences. Some of these mentors may have served as supervisors of NEWPATH students during their internships.

The focus of the first quarter of the practicum will be on ideation and validation. In this phase, teams will identify promising IT areas and sources of product concepts that are within the technical capability of the team to analyze, explore and create product concepts based on their acquired technologies. They will evaluate the concepts and prioritize them. Product definition and selection criteria may include market analysis for the market needs and size, competitors, commercialization strategies and profit margins, as well as development and technical risks. The goal is to identify the most realistic and feasible product concepts with the minimum time and resources. The teams will then undertake both a functional and a strategic assessment of their product concepts by answering a set of key questions adopted from new venture literature, using standard business evaluation tools. The teams are, at this point, are searching for fatal flaws. At the end of this phase, there is a formal decision point for the product concept; decision options include: reject altogether, gather further information, or move on to justification.

The focus of the second quarter of the practicum is on justification and commercialization with the goal of developing a business proposition. Students from teams that decided, at the end of the first quarter, to reject the original product concepts that their respective teams had wanted to pursue will be expected to find and join other appropriate teams that decided to move on to justification. Students will spend much of their time interacting with potential customers, potential competitors and industry thought leaders as they validate their assertions about the commercial viability of their projects. As part of the business case, students will decide on how the business will be financed, will define an operating model for the business including a management plan, and will prepare a go-to-market strategy based on market and competition analysis. Essentially, the students are thinking through the process of setting up and running a startup. This phase culminates with the development of a business proposal, i.e. a selling document, for a startup business. The final exercise will be a full-scale presentation to potential investors. These investors will consist of representatives from the TechColumbus-managed First 50 Fund, as well as others. Should a pitch be accepted for funding, or if the NEWPATH team should simply decide to pursue the business plan on its own, it will not only be given the license to do so but will be provided any assistance it may need to create and run the venture in the months following the completion of the e-practicum. Thus genuine entrepreneurial activity from NEWPATH students is expected and will be encouraged to every extent possible.

One question that came up in discussions was that of intellectual property (IP) and whether OSU would make any claims on ventures that NEWPATH students might create. The NEWPATH team has discussed this question with the OSU IP office and obtained their assurance that, given the nature of the NEWPATH program, OSU will not make such claims. More details are available here.