SHU to Launch Regional Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

FAIRFIELD, Conn.—Sacred Heart University is ramping up a new entrepreneurship ecosystem centered at the University’s West Campus, home of SHU’s Jack Welch College of Business & Technology (WCBT). Using a $200,000 seed grant provided by CTNext and matched by University funds, SHU/WCBT will work with Techstars, a private-sector partner, in the development and execution of programs, outreach and growth. The new creative ecosystem will facilitate entrepreneurial programming, learning opportunities, networking and partnerships aimed at developing and promoting new student-led and private startup ventures from across the state.

Activities centered on campus will focus on helping candidates acquire or strengthen entrepreneurial skills and build the foundations of their startups, with support from mentors and coaches and the University’s incubation facilities and staff. Program elements include a full-time coordinator, student entrepreneurial fellows, guest speakers, networking events, competitive challenges and startup weekends held at the iHub, a co-working space located at West Campus and powered by Verizon. The CTNext grant will fund program development through the end of 2020.

“Our goal is to create a rich and open environment at West Campus—open to university students from across the state—where entrepreneurial skills can be learned and developed and where budding startups can thrive,” said Martha J. Crawford, dean of the WCBT. “Creating an innovation pipeline and new small businesses is critical for Connecticut’s economic growth and wellbeing. We’re grateful to CTNext for recognizing the importance of this venture and providing critical seed funding and to our new innovation partner, Techstars, which has a significant and respected entrepreneurial footprint in the U.S. and abroad.”

Crawford first worked with Techstars in Boston, where she was a startup mentor while on the faculty of Harvard Business School. She joined SHU in August 2019, shortly after the University combined its Jack Welch College of Business and its School of Computer Science & Technology to form the single entity—the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology—that she now leads. Holding a Ph.D. in engineering and an MBA, and having led R&D teams for large multinationals for 20 years, Crawford is passionate about innovation and business development. “I recognize the same passion and commitment in TechStars,” she said.

Through its new partnership with Techstars, SHU/WCBT will focus on reinforcing and scaling its promotion of entrepreneurship on campus. University students from all Connecticut schools will be invited to participate in startup weekends and other learning opportunities. There will also be a speaker series and an entrepreneurship summit that will be open to the public. The University has an entrepreneurship concierge service for startups based at the iHub that facilitates access to labs and research resources. SHU alumni and area businesses are already getting involved as mentors, and more than 20 SHU students are working as interns with startups based in the iHub. All of this is boosting experiential learning opportunities for SHU students and increasing the likelihood that entrepreneurial talent will remain in Connecticut post-graduation.

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed through relationship building, education and access to capital. Techstars helps founders connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders and corporations to grow their companies. The company operates primarily across three divisions: Techstars Startup Programs, Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator Programs and Techstars Corporate Innovation Partnerships. Techstars’ accelerator portfolio includes more than 1,900 companies with a market cap of $25 billion. 

Techstars also works with universities through Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars, offering on-campus support to student entrepreneurs. Since 2018, Techstars has partnered with the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to support the LaunchPad college entrepreneurship network. With 24 schools currently participating in LaunchPad, more than 750,000 students have access to mentoring, resources, and the networks of these two incredible organizations. This new partnership with SHU will build on the ongoing work Techstars continues to do to help student entrepreneurs fuel valuable innovation. 

“We are excited to be working with Sacred Heart University’s prestigious business and technology college, and to be part of the robust and evolving innovations environment already present on their campus,” said Jenny Lawton, chief innovation officer for Techstars. “Ventures like this one already are producing successful startup initiatives, collaborations and jobs, as well as attracting serious investors to innovation hubs across the United States and globally. We’re proud to be part of the many opportunities to support entrepreneurship that will be taking place at SHU and look forward to program success and growth.”    

CTNext is Connecticut’s go-to resource for entrepreneurial support. The goal of the program is to build a more robust community of entrepreneurs and to accelerate startup growth by providing access to talent, space, industry expertise, services, skill development and capital to foster innovation and create jobs for people in Connecticut. CTNext has more than 3,000 members in its network. 

The AACSB-accredited Welch College of Business & Technology has nearly 2,400 students and is included in the Princeton Review’s Best 248 Business Schools–2020 Edition.  It offers nine master’s degrees (accounting, business analytics, business administration, computer science, cybersecurity, digital marketing, finance and investment management, human resources management, information technology) and undergraduate degrees in accounting, finance, economics, marketing, computer science and engineering. 

PHOTO CAPTION: Students of the company FinTron, from left, Matthew Faste, Wilder Rumpf and Adam Pulcyn, work in the student incubator space at West Campus. Photo by Don Hamerman 2020

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About Sacred Heart University

As the second-largest independent Catholic university in New England, and one of the fastest-growing in the U.S., Sacred Heart University is a national leader in shaping higher education for the 21st century. SHU offers more than 80 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs on its Fairfield, Conn., campus. Sacred Heart also has satellites in Connecticut, Luxembourg and Ireland and offers online programs. More than 9,000 students attend the University’s nine colleges and schools: Arts & Sciences; Communication, Media & the Arts; Social Work; Computer Science & Engineering; Health Professions; the Isabelle Farrington College of Education; the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; the Dr. Susan L. Davis & Richard J. Henley College of Nursing; and St. Vincent’s College. Sacred Heart stands out from other Catholic institutions as it was established and led by laity. The contemporary Catholic university is rooted in the rich Catholic intellectual tradition and the liberal arts, and at the same time cultivates students to be forward thinkers who enact change—in their own lives, professions and in their communities. The Princeton Review includes SHU in its Best 385 Colleges–2020 Edition, “Best in the Northeast” and Best 252 Business Schools–2019 Edition. Sacred Heart is home to the award-winning, NPR-affiliated radio station, WSHU, a Division I athletics program and an impressive performing arts program that includes choir, band, dance and theater. www.sacredheart.edu