Creativity from the Inside Out
OSUís New Entrepreneurs
By Bridget Lynch
is a busy time in the life of a student. It’s often the first time
spent away from home and the first time young people are faced with complete
power over what to eat, wear and possibly most importantly, what to do
with their time. Add to that potent mixture the sheer number of courses
listed in a university catalog and suddenly things can look overwhelming
to even the most focused of freshman. And of course, one must not forget,
the ever-present and attractive matter of the College Social Life. When
these issues pile up on top of a course load and sometimes even a part-time
job, it becomes clear why college students are notorious for arriving
on their parents’ doorstep with several months’ worth of dirty
laundry—there simply, isn’t time to do it at school.
such busy students roam the halls of Oregon State University in Corvallis.
However, located near the center of campus in the newly remodeled Weatherford
Hall, about 300 of those students take their busy schedules a step further.
On top of their crammed academic and social calendars, they have a third
demand on their time: a start-up company.
students are part of the new Austin Entrepreneurship Program at OSU and
are part of one of the largest residential colleges focusing on entrepreneurship
in the country.
of an Icon
Hall was built in 1928 as a men’s dormitory and was used as a residence
hall for 66 years until the University closed it in 1994. Though it was
dilapidated and in disrepair, university officials knew that the iconic
building would eventually be used again in a way befitting its stately
since it closed in 1994, people had been discussing how to effectively
use Weatherford Hall,” says Ilene Kleinsorge, Sara Hart Kimball
Dean of the OSU College of Business. “We always wanted to make it
into a residential college and do something special with this icon building.”
houses students from a broad range of majors from across campus, though
a large percentage represent business and engineering colleges. The glue
that binds these students together is their quest to learn more about
starting their own business. To gain a spot in the dorm, students needed
to fill out a housing application and express an interest in entrepreneurship,
says Jon Down, Director of the Austin Entrepreneurship Program. Initially
it was fairly easy to get into Weatherford, Down says. However, as the
program gains prestige and popularity, he expects it to become a much
more competitive process.
three levels of involvement in the program that determine where a student
resides in the building: Affiliates have interest in entrepreneurship
but are still at the beginning of their education, Associates have taken
the Introduction to Entrepreneurship course and have a deeper understanding
of entrepreneurship, and finally, a student reaches the Academy level
after review by an advisory board. Academy students live on the fourth
floor and are encouraged to network with other students and professionals
to turn their dreams of starting a business into a reality.
are 25 students in the Academy right now,” Down says. “Some
of them are really doing a lot in terms of the informal curriculum and
working on their own businesses. Some are not as involved but we are at
the beginning stages and we’re sorting through things and trying
to make our expectations clear.”
curriculum at Weatherford includes discussion sessions with visiting entrepreneurs,
mentor relationships, business plan competitions and pitch sessions, Down
says. Visiting entrepreneurs are invited to stay at Weatherford in a special
two-room suite—the proximity is intended to provide as much access
to students as possible.
met Dean Kleinsorge on a plane,” says Dan Moffat, NewEdge Networks
CEO and Weatherford visitor. “We started talking about the program
and I said I was interested. When I was there, I met with four sets of
students: we did a question and answer session, dinner, a fireside chat
and breakfast in the morning. All of them were interested in entrepreneurship
and had various ideas—some big, some small. It was a neat environment
in terms of creativity. It’s a special place—really amazing
to have that much energy in one place. Staying there was a little like
being back in college, but in the most palatial dorm room you’ll
Start-Up – The AEP Program is Born
Entrepreneurship Program (AEP) at Weatherford Hall is a joint venture
between the College of Business, the College of Engineering, and University
Housing and Dining Services. The program’s name comes from alumnus
Ken Austin and his wife Joan who donated $4 million toward the project.
The Austins founded A-Dec, a dental equipment company based in Newberg.
The $20 million renovation project began in January 2003 and was completed
just before students arrived in September 2004.
was a demand to do more to bring the colleges of business and engineering
together, and in many cases throughout the country those schools have
not worked well together so it was important to move away from the silo
mentality and work together,” Kleinsorge says. “Couple that
with the addition of Housing and Dining to the equation and this is a
Dean Ron Adams agrees, noting that when he talks about the partnership
to Deans at other colleges they are amazed because no one has a partnership
quite like this one.
the start, it felt like working on a start-up company,” says Kleinsorge.
“Just like in business, people are suddenly partnering together
to do more than they could do on their own.”
Member in Residence, Justin Craig, sees many similarities between the
Weatherford project and his real-world start-up experience.
this project was a lot like doing a start-up—that was the big attraction,”
says Craig. “What we are doing here is a brave task—there
is no template to follow. It wouldn’t be fun if there weren’t
any kinks. You have to find out what works and what doesn’t.”
As the Faculty
Member in Residence, Craig’s roll is to serve as the facilitator
of the informal curriculum at Weatherford in addition to his duties as
an Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship. Australian-born Craig and
his wife live in an apartment in Weatherford and he tries to be available
to the students as much as possible.
try to give the students confidence and challenge them,” Craig says.
“They tell me, ‘I’m thinking about this idea; what do
you think?’ Just recently, a student told me about his idea and
I told him ‘You’re better than that, keep trying.’ I
see them in the elevator and ask them ‘Did you ring that guy about
the plan?’ and they say ‘I’m on it!’ They all
have dreams and I try to nurture them all. I want to learn about their
aspirations, help them build networks—you don’t know where
it will pay off.”
haven’t had the big breakthrough yet, but I feel it coming,”
remodel includes specialized incubator rooms equipped with phone and Internet
hookups, office furnishings and lockable cabinets for students’
materials. Down hopes to find additional space on campus for students
to use for manufacturing.
I need to build my amplifiers, I just clear off my desk,” says electrical
engineering and biochemistry
Tyler Morita. “There is a lot going on here (in Weatherford) and
it’s great to be close to so many people who have a passion for
business. It’s easy to find people to talk to and network.”
business, z-audio.com, has been up and running for about a year.
build headphone amplifiers and do consulting for the best quality sound,”
Morita says. “I never really imagined doing a business but it turned
into that and I’m along for the ride. My roommates told me about
this new building and I thought it sounded cool—it kind of fell
into my lap. Since I moved in, I’ve been talking with people in
the building about the marketing side of business and I’m trying
to find someone to help me with a business plan and to help me navigate
associated with the program strives to keep one key element in focus—all
of these entrepreneurs remain first, students.
need the program to be consistent with education and scholarship and provide
experiential learning but not lose the soul of education,” Kleinsorge
energy is wonderful and the students are benefiting. They are very excited
to be a part of this and have this wonderful can-do spirit. My husband
and I—we are both in education—often say we have found the
fountain of youth because we forget how old we are being around the energy
of these young people.”
In her speech
at the Weatherford Grand Opening, Joan Austin encouraged the University
to be mindful of the students’ schedules.
know from experience that it is a challenge to balance the entrepreneurship
role with academics,” Joan Austin said. “Entrepreneurs, by
definition, work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I hope OSU will acknowledge
this and offer flexible options so our student entrepreneurs can stay
degrees include business, psychology and a PhD in behavioral science,
understands the stress that students are under trying to balance life
as a student with life as business people.
is lots to juggle, and I try to be conscious of that,” Craig says.
“That is why partnering with Housing and Dining on this project
was such a great idea. They know student life and they can help us understand
what living on campus and in a new environment is like for students. They
understand the demands on students and collaborate with us to help us
understand how things like midterms will change their schedules.”
Todd Backus juggles his plan to open a production company with his plan
to earn a B.A. in theater and a B.S. in film production.
the Academy the energy and attitude is really high,” Backus says.
“The program is brand new and we all have a lot of ideas. We’ve
been doing a lot of groundwork so I haven’t been able to focus as
much on my business yet. But once the groundwork is laid, we’ll
be able to access the wide-ranging expertise of the people in the Academy.
It is exciting to be starting something with the potential for such major
benefits down the road.”
he always knew he would want the degree of freedom in filmmaking that
would only come from owning his own business and that making the choice
to pursue his dream was the hardest part.
have a strong business background but I don’t really like that side,”
Backus says. “I’m hoping to create a company that does some
ad agency work and expand into film later. I hope I’ll be able to
find some people in the Academy who can help.”
sophomore Roshan Khemlani heard about Weatherford last year, he knew it
was the place for him.
spent all summer bragging about Weatherford and how great it was going
to be,” Khemlani says. “I live on the fourth floor and I’m
really enjoying the networking. I need a graphic designer for my custom
clothing line and I hope I’ll be able to find someone who wants
to work on that.”
in the informal curriculum has already netted Khemlani some important
business contacts for his business, Roach Wear.
met someone from University Printing Services when I was presenting my
business in one of the incubator rooms,” Khemlani says. “It
was a great contact because I found out how to get permission from the
University to use Beaver logos on my t-shirts. Now I’m working on
a Civil War shirt and I hope to be able to take it to fraternities and
sororities and offer them the opportunity to customize it with their Greek
As the son
of an entrepreneurial father, Khemlani knows growing his business will
take a lot of hard work.
father is a Hong Kong tailor based in Portland,” Khemlani says.
“My idea to start my own clothing line came from there. I did some
job shadowing with him and learned a lot about things like customer relationships
and customer service. Now his website links to mine and my site links
In his speech
at the Weatherford Grand Opening in October, OSU President, Edward J.
Ray, noted that entrepreneurship is not something new to the OSU family.
Among the entrepreneurial alumni Ray pointed to as examples were Bernie
Newcomb, one of the founders of eTrade, Ken and Joan Austin, and Randy
Conrads, founder of Classmates.com. Ray went on to add that he believed
that among the audience, which included the residents of Weatherford Hall,
were some of OSU’s great future entrepreneurs.
sophomore in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, and Aaron
Moore, sophomore in electrical engineering and computer science, were
listening and they are hopeful that their industrial helicopter project
might rank them with those prestigious alums.
looked at the dorm and I thought it looked cool,” Rysko says. “But
when I found out more about the program, I got much more serious about
Moore are working on an autonomous helicopter control system that could
eventually be used in a variety of types of vehicles in a variety of industries.
Presently, the prototype helicopter carries a camera, and possible applications
for their technology include news and media, travel companies, aerial
surveillance, and search and rescue operations, Moore says.
from students like Morita, Backus, Khemlani, Rysko and Moore, OSU hopes
to build long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships with industry and
spur economic development in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
want to have as much value from the outside in as from the inside out,”
is just the beginning of the program, everyone involved is confident in
vision is simple,” says Kleinsorge. “Moving from discovery
to market, creating a dynamic learning community that fosters creativity
and innovation and establishes models for collaboration, allowing OSU
to make an economic impact on Oregon.”
says that eventually the University would like to establish a Weatherford
Ventures Fund that would provide seed money to worthy entrepreneurial
want our students to be prepared to compete with anyone, anywhere, and
this program helps immeasurably in realizing that aspiration,” Ray
says. “Oregon needs to have a globally competitive, diverse economy
and OSU, because of its programs, people and statewide reach, is uniquely
positioned to help create that economy. We are making huge steps ahead
with AEP and Weatherford and they are tangible signs of our commitment.
Economic success will arise from innovation and creativity, whether it
is in engineering, science, apparel, neutraceuticals, or the arts.”