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Thursday, May 22, 2008

SJSU's prize-winning tech startups

Today we had the finals of the 6th annual Silicon Valley Business Plan Competition here at San José State. I was one of the judges that winnowed down the 69 entries to 17 semifinalists and then 8 finalists.

The first prize ($10k) was won by a low-tech business plan by a student from our undergraduate honors business program, but the second ($5k) and third ($1k) prizes went to high-tech plans from SJSU alumni:

  • nMotion plans to make a market in high-tech ads (since they don’t have a website, for now I won’t say more)
  • BayCom has developed a new text message-based reader response system it calls Dial-Send-Read.
Our four industry judges were excited by the plans, as each year we have worked to bring technology-based startup plans from other colleges across campus.

We historically have had a dilemma that I think many campuses face with their business plans. Business students can come up with well-executed plans for run-of-the-mill businesses (like restaurants), while engineering (or here, industrial design) students have great technology but a hard time making a business out of it.

As I saw at the Georgia Tech conference, the key to good technology entrepreneurship education (like real startups) is cross-disciplinary cooperation. Technology management faculty are re-inventing this wheel across the country every year.

While such cooperation is a common issue for all tech entrepreneurship, like other CSU schools we have a slightly different problem than Harvard or Georgia Tech. We’re primarily an undergraduate program: 75% of our 32,000 students are undergraduates. My sense is the matching process is a little tougher with undergraduates than graduates — perhaps because the graduates will have already experience some cooperation in the workplace.

TI:GER and the other programs are going for formal, structured cooperation as part of a curriculum. So far, we’ve gone for informal cooperation — matchmaking business students with students who have a good technology. I’d be curious to hear how others have done such informal (or at least extracurricular) cross-functional cooperation.

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