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NCSU program helps students take inventions to market

Posted July 10, 2012

Student Charlie West works on a project in NCSU's Garage, a business startup incubator.
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— Charlie West is hard at work behind the microscope, his soldering tools within reach as he puts together components to build his own robot.

“It's my first time doing this, which, hopefully, is why I'm messing up so much,” he said.

But messing up is all part of the experience at North Carolina State University’s Entrepreneurs Garage.

Located on Centennial Campus, the Garage is a business startup incubator – a place where any student can brainstorm, collaborate and come up with new products and inventions.

West, a graduate student in computer science, wants the robot to power his new business, Vision Mosaics, which would create big glass mosaics out of pictures that can be uploaded to his website.

“We're trying to create pathways for students coming out of their own jobs, for themselves and others,” said Tom Miller, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Initiative at N.C. State.

Founded in 2008, the program teaches students how to start companies, write business plans, market their products and find funding through courses, training and networking.

Red Hat sponsors the garage, which is open to any student. Campus officials said the university hopes to raise money to expand the concept into an Entrepreneurs Village on the Centennial Campus in the next few years.

As West works on his robot, recent graduate Angela Hollen is looking over website designs.

She used the Garage to launch Spitter Spatter -- her own line of stain- and bacteria-resistant clothing for infants and toddlers.
“The smart boards were really helpful,” she said. “I could sketch out designs and patterns, save the file and send them to my pattern-maker.”

Junior design student Sharon Bui has launched Frill, a business that allows sororities to get custom clothing for rush week.
She says the Garage has given her a big advantage.

“Instead of meeting at Panera, I have a professional space to bring in investors and clients,” Bui said.

Students say it's a place where they can turn their dreams into reality – and launch ideas that could change the world.
West says if the glass-mosaic business works out, he will set his sights even higher.

“I have an idea for a space company, actually with solar sails,” he said.


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  • billsmith80 Jul 12, 2012

    tar97heel is just wrong. Not sure what he learned in his four years but he clearly did not learn that you cannot extrapolate from a single individual's experience the value of a college education on a generation of students.
    Even the most casual review of the data will tell you that societies who educate their young the most, ie those who send the largest percentage of their population to post secondary education are the most successful and the wealthiest.
    On the other hand kids and their families should not -borrow- stupid amounts of money to pay for out-of-state education when they could attend in-state for a fraction as much.

  • Southern Discomfort Jul 11, 2012

    Statistics prove otherwise to what tar97heel is saying.

    Unless of course you want to go to a fancy 50k a year school for a degree in liberal studies, then he/she is correct.

  • steelcity36 Jul 11, 2012

    tar97heel is right in that if you attend a liberal arts school, which it appears he did, then a 4 year college degree might not be worth the price paid to learn the skills you need to succeed in a general business environment. The entrepreneur program at State doesn't make entrepreneurs, it cultivates them and expedites the process of innovation. Make no mistake, these people were born with the skills. NC State is just showing them the path to get the product to market sooner, rather than having to slowly learn the legal, financial and regulatory processes on their own.

  • tar97heel Jul 11, 2012

    When I look back on my college years, I'm hesitant to recommend a 4-year college unless you're planning to eventually get a phD, or go to post-grad medical or dental school. Case in point, I'm sure they are doing great things over at NCSU, but you don't "make" an entrepreneur. You are either born with it, or you aren't. I can't imagine being taught how to be an entrepreneur in a college-level class. It would have been irrelevant because I had no real-world experience. Look at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs - college dropouts and perfect examples of how useless and unnecessary a college degree has become. About the only thing it guarantees you is 1) debt, 2) living with your parents after you graduate, and 3) a $30k starting salary.

  • Ernest B. Jul 11, 2012

    It's gonna be really cool when that new library opens over there on Centennial. Both of these places will help bring innovations and inventions to the market and hopefully create jobs.

  • westernwake1 Jul 10, 2012

    A good program on part of NC State to drive entrepreneurship in the Triangle.