Students are Hatching Innovation at Michigan State University

By Jane Whitttington on February 16th, 2015 / Comments

Just across Grand River from the MSU campus, an innovative program brings together student entrepreneurs, mentors with business expertise and generous funding sources to create The Hatch. It’s a space where ideas flourish, creativity meets practicality, and businesses are born.

Paul Jacques, Director of Student and Community Engagement, oversees day-to-day operation of the Hatch. Along with a full-time professional staff of four, the Hatch also employs eight part-time“mentors in residence” and 15 MSU graduate and undergraduate fellows and interns who assist student entrepreneurs as they progress. As a coworking space in which to develop products and services, the Hatch offers not only access to capital and professional mentoring, they also provide conference rooms, office equipment and, perhaps most importantly, business development support.

The Hatch is in the same building as the Technology Innovation Center (TIC), a business accelerator for technology start-ups. TIC, supported by LEAP (Lansing Economic Development Partnership), offers Hatch participants access to their services.

Jacques says, “Typically, a student will approach us to pitch an idea, and we will make space, funding and resources available to them.  We were given two endowments through the University—the Gerstacker Foundation Entrepreneurial Grant Program and the Forest Akers Program, and students apply for these two grants when they fill out an application for the Hatch.”

The Hatch then pays its fellows and interns, who are student employees of the Hatch, to work for the student entrepreneur’s company, giving the fledgling businessperson access to market and financial analysis, web design, marketing assistance, copyright and patent search and anything else they need to get their idea “hatched”. Funding is also provided for additional expenses such as flyers, business cards, travel, etc.

Jacques says, “Once the student comes onboard, we can walk them through the process of establishing their business. If their idea is an actual physical product, we provide the funding to make the prototype.”

The goal is to actually get their idea up and running and into the marketplace.

The Hatch website has a list of all the projects their student entrepreneurs have established. Ideas run the gamut from Warrior Arsenal (specially designed Spartan helmets) to Dionysus Designs (a service which designs, installs and manages small scale vineyards, hop yards and fruit tree plots) to Eightfold Marketing and Creatives (a marketing, branding and video production business) to Move In Move Out (a non-profit that collects unused furniture, appliances and housewares from students who plan to move out, resells them and donates the proceeds to local charities) to Course Hack (an online tool for college students to organize their academic work).

Besides all this, the Hatch sponsors or participates in a variety of events, including competitions throughout the country and right here at home that allow the student entrepreneurs to vie against others. There are sometimes cash incentives for the competitions, and all provide networking opportunities for the young entrepreneurs.

Jacques says, “One of the competitions we participate in is Student Startup Madness, a tournament-style competition for college student digital media startups, culminating with the ‘Entrepreneurial Eight’ national finals at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. We have had students in the top three for the last three years.”

One of their most successful products is the brainchild of bioengineering students who devised a wearable treatment for infant jaundice called the SnugLit Portable Phototherapy Blanket. Because it is portable, babies do not have to remain in incubators but can be held by their parent thus providing a better bonding experience for both mother and baby. The company name is TheraB Medical; they have participated in several business model start-up competitions: the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize, GreenLight Michigan, The Hatching Lansing, The International Business Model Competition (IBMC) at Brigham Young University, and A&E’s Project Startup Live. The team won 4th place over 2,500 international start up teams at the IBMC in May 2014.

The Hatch is continuing to grow and plans are in the works for its continued expansion. In fact, MSU is going to begin offering a minor in Entrepreneurship in the fall of 2015.

Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

The Hatch gives students the opportunity to take a chance, dream big and discover the possibilities.

Photo via The Hatch.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.