University of Vermont

School of Business Administration

New Crowd-Based Donating Platform Gives Students Access to Alumni Expertise, Funding

Eleview
Eleview will provide consumers with the opportunity to take aerial video -- without use of a helicopter or other prohibitively expensive means.

The first round of projects by student entrepreneurs, ranging from a flying robot that can autonomously follow and film someone using a smartphone to a sustainably produced energy bar infused with Ecuadorian guayusa tea leaves, have been announced as part of an innovative new program at the University of Vermont that raises start-up money through alumni donations.

UVM Start is a crowd-donating platform that connects student startups with alumni -- gaining the connections, mentoring, and capital necessary to get their companies off the ground. Students are invited to submit projects that are social, consumer-focused, or science-and technology-based to a student team that selects between six to 10 projects each semester. The winning entries are then posted on uvmstart.org, where UVM’s approximately 100,000 alumni can browse the projects and donate advice and money to a specific project or to the UVM Start general fund.

“UVM Start is just the kind of technology-savvy program we need in higher education,” said Tom Sullivan, president of the University of Vermont. “It promotes student innovation and entrepreneurship and connects young people with mentors and potential sponsors in the community and in our alumni network. It also provides a convenient and efficient platform for alumni to engage with students in a rewarding way by helping them implement their creative ideas in the real world.”

Other student projects chosen in the first round include a vertical covered bike rack that provides security and protection across campus; a door-mounted, space-saving ski rack; a one-of-a-kind device that converts recycled plastics into filament used in 3D printing; and a revolutionary Nordic skiing glove design based on the specifications of world-class athletes.

“UVM Start is an innovative way for young entrepreneurs to get the resources and the mentorship they need to actually start a business,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin. “This project is a great example of a creative partnership that will not only give students valuable real-world experience vital to any education, but will also allow students to witness the magic of their ideas becoming reality. I commend UVM for helping to launch the next wave of job creators in Vermont.”

Funding key to success for start-ups

Students who initially submitted applications in September for the first round have 45 days to fundraise before funds are distributed via the UVM Foundation in December. Students can enter for a second round of funding in the spring, but must have proof of concept in hand. Once funds are distributed again, students have the summer to build and scale their companies. 

“It’s been an experience that I would have never dreamed of taking part in as a first-year engineering student,” said senior Cyril Brunner, who is part of team Eleview along with fellow team member Julian Tryba. “I have been more passionate about this project than anything so far at UVM and it has really allowed me to expand my horizons in terms of career paths and networks. I would have never thought that there would be the potential of creating a startup in my senior year of college; I always thought that was reserved for the likes of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.”

Students, who rally support around their proposals through the use of Facebook, Twitter, email and other social media, can consult with an advisory committee composed of faculty, staff, professors and local professionals. They also receive technical, financial and planning support from program sponsors Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET), Vermont Technology Council and the UVM Foundation.

“UVM Start gives student entrepreneurs the capital and mentoring required to make a substantive difference in the trajectory of their businesses,” said Andrew Stickney, vice president of VCET. “This hands-on, micro-donating platform will engage alumni — allowing UVM grads to truly change the course of a company and even a UVM student's career. This is why we feel that UVM Start is truly empowering the next generation of UVM entrepreneurs.”

Tucker Severson, an MBA student who is a member of the student team that selects proposals, said alumni support is critical to the success of all of the projects. “Alumni support could make all the difference,” he said. “Substantive capital and mentoring is often the difference between languishing and success. The university has many entrepreneurial students and supportive alumni, so by connecting the two, UVM Start plans to help turbo-charge entrepreneurship on campus.”