Michelle Cote is Managing Director of the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CCEI) at the University of Connecticut School of Business. Cote shared insight about the Center and told Innovation Destination: Hartford more about the entrepreneurial programs at UConn.
IDH: What type of mentoring, workshops and support services does the CCEI provide?
COTE: The CCEI was founded in 2007 with support from the Connecticut State Legislature. In the fall of 2014, John Elliott, Dean of the School of Business, appointed Tim Folta as Faculty Director and asked him to develop a new vision for the center. Tim asked me to join him shortly thereafter, and together we have been working to find new ways to serve student and faculty entrepreneurs at UConn and around the state.
Four core programs and two special initiatives have emerged as a result of those efforts:
- Innovation Accelerator
- Accelerate UConn
- Verge Consulting Group
- CCEI Summer Fellowship (launching Summer 2016)
- Life Science Venturing Initiative
- Values-Driven Ventures Initiative
Many of these programs and initiatives are new and we look forward continuing to find new opportunities to partner with others interested in advancing entrepreneurship at UConn.
IDH: How did you become involved at the CCEI and what does your role as Managing Director entail?
COTE: I joined CCEI because it was a great opportunity to help develop new ways to serve both student and faculty entrepreneurs at UConn. As an alum, I’m passionate about providing people with the tools they need to explore new things and to accomplish their goals while they are at UConn. My role at CCEI includes:
- helping to deliver programs that serve student and faculty entrepreneurs from all parts of the University network across the state
- finding new ways to partner with other entrepreneurship-related initiatives within the University
- creating relationships with stakeholders in the broader local community
IDH: Describe your involvement with the Innovation Accelerator program.
COTE: I co-teach the Innovation Accelerator with CCEI’s Faculty Director and management professor, Tim Folta. We assign students from different backgrounds into teams and provide them with the tools and coaching they need to help solve a real-life challenge for a local early-stage venture.
Most of our work centers around helping the students research the market the company wants to enter and formulating an evidence-based strategy for customer development and product launch. In addition to instruction from us, each team is also paired with a mentor with experience in the industry their client company is seeking to enter.
We are constantly recruiting projects from startups seeking market-entry assistance and mentors who are interested in helping students gain skills critical to their growth and development. If you are interested in becoming an Innovation Accelerator host company, or mentor, we’d love to hear from you!
IDH: The CCEI’s new Verge Consulting Group program will be launching this fall. Describe the program and how the concept for it evolved.
COTE: After looking at the results of the Innovation Accelerator, we were inspired by the ways in which students can help entrepreneurs overcome the hurdles associated with getting a new venture off the ground. We also recognized that there are a lot of students who are interested in entrepreneurship but don’t necessarily want to start their own venture.
We’re launching the Verge Consulting Group to help them to find ways to use their talents to serve entrepreneurs. We envision engaging students with a diverse set of skillsets including: business model creation, financial modeling, quantitative and qualitative analysis, product development and engineering, market sizing and marketing plan development, and digital media and web development. However, graduate students with specialized skills from across the University are encouraged to apply.
When students are invited to join, they will commit to working one-on-one with entrepreneurs from across Connecticut, assisting with as many different challenges as they can handle in about 8 to 10 hours per week. As Verge Consultants (VCs), they will have access to coaching from mentors, venture capitalists and angel investors; gain consulting experience with startups; and receive a $1,500 stipend per term.
Yale Entrepreneurship Institute (YEI) runs a similar program with great success and we are looking forward to testing the value for students and entrepreneurs at UConn.
IDH: What types of students and faculty are involved with the CCEI?
COTE: One of our biggest goals at the CCEI is to broaden the scope of participation from students and faculty across the University and include members of as many different schools, centers, research facilities and student groups as possible.
Right now, we have strong participation from graduate students from the School of Business and are increasing our connections amongst students and faculty at UConn Health. This is due in large part to a strong partnership we have created with UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research, Technology Commercialization Services. We also work with other programs focused on entrepreneurship at UConn, such as Innovation Quest and the Technology Incubation Program to help provide “next stage” support to their graduates.
We warmly welcome any student or faculty member who is looking to learn more about entrepreneurship to contact us to find opportunities to get involved.
IDH: How many students are typically involved with the CCEI?
COTE: Once the semester gets underway this fall, we’ll have roughly 20 students enrolled and three or four host companies engaged in the Innovation Accelerator. We’ll have another 15 enrolled in a Biomedical Entrepreneurship class we are coordinating. We’ll start with a fall cohort of 15 teams of at least three for our new National Science Foundation sponsored program called Accelerate UConn. We look to engage up to five new graduate students as Verge Consultants.
We’re just getting started, and we look forward to growing our community over the next year and beyond.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about working with entrepreneurial students and faculty?
COTE: I absolutely love working with smart, passionate people. And everyday at UConn I meet people who inspire me with their ideas, with the work that they have accomplished to develop new opportunities or technologies and with their passion to make a difference with their skills.
It’s my privilege to find ways for them to explore the market potential for all of those ideas and connect them with resources that will increase their odds of success. That’s a pretty great way to spend the day!
IDH: What is the best thing about being in the Greater Hartford region?
COTE: The best thing about being here is the compact nature of our local community. With a little persistence, you’re probably two degrees of separation away from key decision makers in almost every facet of business, government and education, and media. If you’re invested in making a difference you can find ways to do that and people who are willing to help you do it here.