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Startup Quest gets boost from Stetson

boden-webSoBA helps county program develop entrepreneurs who take ideas to market.

An innovative effort to awaken entrepreneurial spirit, boost job skills, and improve local economies, has begun in Volusia and Flagler counties with the help of faculty, alumni and a student of the Stetson University School of Business Administration.

“Startup Quest is one of the best entrepreneurship training initiatives I have ever seen,” said William Andrews, Ph.D., pictured in the red shirt below, chair of the school’s International Business Department, an expert in entrepreneurial business, and a member of the Startup Quest advisory board.

“It combines systematic training with the immediate requirement to apply them to a ‘live’ opportunity,” said Andrews.

There is great potential in having entrepreneurial skills injected into the local workforce, say those who helped launch the first of three 10-week cycles funded by a federal labor and employment training grant through the Center for Business Excellence (CBE) in Volusia and Flagler counties.

“We’ve had a successful beginning,” said Luis Paris, pictured bottom left, assistant professor of International Business and Management at Stetson and CBE’s business development and communications manager. “We laid the groundwork, established the right partnerships and learned what worked and what didn’t. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

NguyenThe program targets the unemployed and underemployed, and began with 76 people divided into small, simulated startup teams mentored by experienced and successful local entrepreneurs. Using vetted ideas, teams plunged into classes on market analysis, financial projections, advanced technologies and management. Business plan presentations in August ended the program’s first cycle.

“I viewed the program as a ‘teach a man to fish’ opportunity,” said the only student mentor, Francisco Boden, pictured above, a senior at Stetson and an award-winning business major with real-world entrepreneurial experience. He said his team gained the skills and confidence to launch a startup company and put themselves to work instead of looking and waiting for a job.

Andrews expects creation of sustainable startups over time.

The top business plan marketed a device that diagnoses cancer without a biopsy. The winning team received $4,200 in cash and prizes. Tuyet “Hannah” Nguyen, a recent graduate of Stetson, pictured left, was on that team. Her passion for social entrepreneurship began at Stetson and she jumped at the chance to get free training.

“Opportunities like this don’t come around too often,” said Nguyen. “I gained an enormous amount of the most up-to-date knowledge, tools and resources from seasoned professionals. The lessons were priceless and I gained real-world business skills.”

Andrews, BillFor Boden, it was an opportunity to hone his skills and share his experience with the community. He put his degree on hold in 2009 to engage in entrepreneurship and has participated in seven startups and consulted on others.

His team developed a system to help social organizations identify high quality recruits using algorithms and psychographic modeling. Other teams worked on ideas for safer highway barriers, better solar panels, a system to help students read, and one to monitor movement of foundations in bridges, viaducts and overpasses.

Three of nine teams are talking with potential investors and one is moving toward a startup, said Paris, who managed the program.

Participants will be monitored to assess the effectiveness of the training, said Robin King, vice president of CBE’s Workforce Development Board, one of eight in Florida trying Startup Quest.

Lou Paris“I believe the fundamental value of this program to our local economy is going to be tremendous,” she said. “For us to have a workforce trained, hands-on, in taking a technology to market has limitless possibilities.”

“Absolutely,” said Paris. “If we do it enough times, it will help the economy. We will be pairing brilliant minds with new business opportunities to help keep them in this area. If we can retain and attract that kind of talent and synergy, it will make this region a better place.”

The final two Startup Quest courses are planned for 2014, one in western Volusia County. Paris hopes one team will be made up of Stetson business students.

by Ronald Williamson