SU Entrepreneurial students participate at Florida Venture Forum
Stetson University senior D.J. Sawyer was one of 14 Stetson students to attend this year’s Florida Venture Forum Early Stage Conference held in late May in St. Petersburg, Fla. Sawyer was invited to present in the collegiate ‘start-ups’ competition.
“It was quite an honor for D.J. to be one of 10 collegiate start-ups selected statewide to present,” said William Andrews, Ph.D., an entrepreneurship professor at Stetson University, who accompanied the students to the conference. “The Florida Venture Forum is the real deal. There were about a dozen angel and VC firms there looking for the ‘next big thing.’ D.J. has already raised over $70,000 in seed money and competition awards. His company, TSOLife, is a niche social media platform that is rapidly emerging onto the regional stage as one with great potential.” Sawyer and one other Stetson student in his group placed first in this year’s Cairns Innovation Challenge held in April in Daytona Beach. Stetson students won both first and second place in that competition. Stetson visiting instructor in Management Tara Batista, Ph.D., who also attended the Venture Forum, has worked closely with Sawyer in recent months to help TSOLife develop its initial markets.
In addition to Sawyer, 13 graduate students from Andrews’ Venture Capital class also attended the two-day conference. The first day, the participants attended presentations covering governance issues, the active role of early stage investors in building the company, and preparing for eventual exits. The second day consisted of a morning session of 10 collegiate start-up presentations followed by as many as 18 “open division” presentations from experienced entrepreneurs.
“This is a fabulous learning lab for our grad students,” said Andrews, who is also chair of Stetson’s Department of International Business. “We take the company stories back into our classroom and do our own analyses on both valuation and the likelihood of eventual success. Moreover, the investor panel gives immediate feedback to the companies, allowing our students to see how investment professionals scrutinize potential investments. Finally, the students see both good presentations and bad ones, allowing them to shape their own presentations accordingly.”
Andrews added, “We are especially grateful to Stetson’s Business Foundation that funded the conference registration fee for the students, and to Pat Schneider of the Florida Venture Forum for working with us to accommodate our entire Venture Capital class.”