Students and alumni are looking to the future, building their own DePauw Innovations incubator. Life after school is a challenge and finding jobs has gotten more difficult; by teaching start-up skills, this incubator is equipping students to make their own futures.
DePauw Innovations was created by senior Kinder Jones and McDermond Center director Steve Fouty. Its purpose is to enable students and faculty to take an idea and help them grow it into a company.
An incubator program helps companies take their nascent ideas and grow them to fully functioning enterprises by following smart business techniques, while also teaching the people involved important business and leadership skills.
The Innovations incubator does this by connecting students to each other and teaching them to work together. Each student has their own specialized skills, which together form a very strong team. They also provide extensive networks of mentors and advisors who have real experience in the startup world. The incubator offers a free space to work and collaborate in Greencastle called the Tenzer Club, otherwise known as Indiana 19.5.
Last April, Jones approached Fouty, with the idea of filling a void which he believed was missing from DePauw’s campus: an incubator. DePauw has a wide variety of programs: Women in Business, DePauw Engage Entrepreneurship Group, and countless other resources offered by the McDermond Center. Jones said that nothing existed for the VC/Private equity world.
Jones gave a lot of credit to Fouty, who he said had a lot of the foundational structure for this program. “Steve had this idea for how he wanted entrepreneurship at DePauw to look for a while, he just hadn’t found a student to run it,” said Jones. They worked together throughout quarantine, communicating via zoom at least twice a week.
Today, they have successfully set the foundations of the program. They have put together an investment team, marketing team, due diligence team, and business development team. They have also begun creating a social media presence and writing newsletters. In the future, they plan to create podcasts and host workshops as well as keynote speeches.
Fouty has a long history of starting successful companies. He has entrepreneurial flair, thinking as an owner, but building the essential functions required for success. Before joining the university, he worked in the Tech industry in Indianapolis as CFO or financial controller at ExactTarget (sold to Salesforce.com) and Software Artistry (sold to IBM), PolicyStat (sold to iContracts) and Emerging Threats (sold to ProofPoint), amongst others.
Start-ups are the engine of growth in labor markets, with 3 million new jobs created by businesses less than one-year-old, and often many more. Tech firms are often seen as providing the greatest opportunity for jobs among young people if they are prepared to challenge orthodox businesses and think outside the box. This is another skill that incubators try to encourage.
This is the second semester the incubator has been up and running and COVID-19 has not made this process any easier. While trying to figure out the structure of the program, the management team was forced to do all of this work virtually.
Now Jones is the incubator’s first CEO. One of the events the group has sponsored is a Pitch Competition which had brand new companies pitching their ideas to the Alumni Angels.
Senior Caroline Schmerge, Management Fellow and member of the Women in Business club, is the chief marketing officer, and she manages marketing and publicity for the Incubator. She joined the project over the summer. According to Schmerge, “it was a necessary next step for DePauw startups.”
DePauw had already established an entrepreneurship group for students who wanted to take an idea and create a pitch. They work in teams to develop a business canvas, which helps them solidify their ideas and make a viable business pitch that they use in competitions.
DePauw Innovations takes that program one step further. The purpose of the Innovations incubator is to help with the entire process of starting a business from scratch, whether that be branding, customer validation, or even needing help to find funding.
The pandemic offered unique challenges to promoting the incubator. Schmerge had to rely on virtual mediums to spread the word. “It has been a challenge gaining campus awareness because we don’t have access to bulletin boards or posting flyers. Our only access to students is through mailing lists and social media,” Schmerge said.
Senior TJ Carney-DeBord is the incubator’s chief operating officer and Jones’ “right hand man.” Carney-DeBord runs daily operations for the group and gets involved in every department.
Carney-DeBord emphasized the importance of thinking long-term. “Our biggest goal is to establish a foundation for a really successful student group that we can see results five years from now,” Carney-DeBord said.
Business innovation is not new to Carney-DeBord. He has taken a class in venture capital, and he’s a Management Fellow with an economics major.
Carney-DeBord believes that the Incubator pulls together many existing groups at DePauw, notably the Investment Group and Women in Business. There was a clear lack of coverage for those interested in venture capital or private equity. He would advise anyone thinking about joining the program to go for it.
“You can definitely learn a lot to help with your career, and it’s fun to be a part of a team,” Carney-DeBord said. “The more DePauw people that are part of a team, the better it is.”