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Summer Accelerator entrepreneurship program refines business ideas and propels them forward

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This post originally appeared on the Harbert College of Business News Center.

They began with business ideas. Eight weeks later, those ideas were refined into business models that could find success in the marketplace.

Eight teams of student entrepreneurs at Auburn University were provided lessons in protecting intellectual properties, financial analyses, business law, confidentiality agreements, customer discovery, website and search engine optimization, and more, during the annual eight-week Summer Accelerator Program, sponsored by the Harbert College of Business.

Lou Bifano, Director of Entrepreneurship Strategy at Auburn University, believes it’s important to capture business ideas in the innovation stage, then accelerate that idea into a viable product. “We’re trying to help them come from an idea to a physical product or service that they can take to market,” he said. “Then achieve this at a faster rate with fewer mistakes than they would have if they were trying this on their own.

“Our theme is to innovate, accelerate, and soar!”

Teams participating ideas included:

* Dead Bird (Mitchell Owens): producing high-quality duck calls

* DynastyU (Zerian Stewart): social media-based recruiting application that connects athletes and coaches

* Plug Talk (Joshua Harden): networking platform that allows individuals in the music industry to connect and collaborate

* Remora Robotics (Zachary Wadzinski): a drone that cleans waste from waterways

* Stelona Shoes (Lydia Pass): interchangeable shoe that allows women to have all of their fashion shoes in one

* SwiftSku (Mit Patel and Daniel Mazur): technology to leverage the power of business intelligence and increase direct promotional value from distributors

* U-Neat (Anasofia Guajardo): cleaning company that specializes in student and university needs

* Alex Vogelsong: Student and member of Auburn University’s men’s golf team interested in learning entrepreneurial skills and possibly parlaying this knowledge into a golf-related product or service

Entrepreneurs met with Bifano and Entrepreneurs in Residence Scott McGlon and Phil Fraher via Zoom four times per week – twice for lectures and instruction and twice to work individually with staff on their business plans. Teams have also had the opportunity to hear from a diverse group of successful entrepreneurs as guest speakers.

“The goal is always to see the students make progress in the gaps they had in their growth plans,” Bifano said. “That often varies by team. That’s part of why we meet several days per week, and often one-on-one with Scott or Phil.”

McGlon and Fraher are more than just entrepreneurs in residence. They are successful businessmen. McGlon has managed and built multiple successful startups for three decades. Fraher is President and CEO of Descartes Labs and was previously CFO at Zilliant.

“Phil is a strong member on financial matters,” Bifano said. “Scott is a search engine optimization expert and he has a strong background in motivating employees.”

Lydia Pass, a recent graduate in apparel design and production, recognizes that she has a limited business background and utilized the Accelerator to sharpen those skills.

“This program has given me the basics of how to launch a successful startup,” said Pass. “Being a young entrepreneur, it is difficult to relate to people my age. One of my favorite parts of the class is meeting other people in the same stage and mindset that I am in. Having the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people is very beneficial and keeps me optimistic. It is encouraging to see others succeed, as well as getting feedback on how to face challenges and become a better entrepreneur.”

“Auburn’s accelerator has been instrumental in tracking our company’s finances for the long term as well as giving our marketing a kick start,” said Zach Wadzinski, a senior in engineering, and CEO of Remora Robotics. “We’ve also been taught by outside experts on advanced legal and management practices that we put into place in our company immediately. Scott and Lou have been essential to our success so far.”

Bifano noted that one student, Vogelsong, was a freshman hoping to learn more about entrepreneurship. On the other hand, two teams – SwiftSku and Remora Robotics – were 2020 Tiger Cage Student Business Idea finalists. “They all have different needs and skillsets,” he added. “If they don’t have anybody on the team that’s a business major, we can work with them on finance and so forth. In other cases, if they are trying to put together a pitch deck for a potential investor and get some help in introductions to different investors, we can focus on that.

“We’re very proud of how hard every one of the Summer Accelerator teams have worked and the progress each has made over the past eight weeks. I want to thank the members of our Entrepreneurship Advisory Council who have given so generously of their time to be guest speakers, and network with our students in group meetings and individually. I would also like to recognize the terrific job Scott McGlon and Phil Fraher, our two entrepreneurs-in-residence, have done working with our students. It has been an exciting adventure as we all learned on the fly how to do, what has historically been a face-to-face program, using Zoom video conferencing technology for all of our meetings. This summer’s program has been a true team effort with students, faculty, staff, coaches, and mentors working and learning together.”