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Sunday, February 25, 2024

New Entrepreneurship Fund gives student businesses a helping hand

Last quarter saw the inception of ASUCD’s Entrepreneurship Fund, a new $6,000 grant established to support undergraduate business ventures and promote innovation among the undergraduate class.

The program runs on a two-quarter system in which winning applicants are picked from a diverse pool of business proposals and can be allocated up to $1,500 in funding.

These projects, as stated on the Entrepreneurship Fund website, are supposed to be “socially-conscious businesses” that are aimed to “recognize a social problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a business venture that helps to achieve social change.”

The Entrepreneurship Fund, as drafted in ASUCD Senate Bill 100, is organized into the entirely student-run Entrepreneurship Fund Special Committee, which in turn is divided into two sub-committees. First, a selection committee comprised of various members of ASUCD, alumni and faculty is responsible for reviewing applications, conducting interviews and determining the recipients of the funding. Second, an entirely student-run advisory committee is responsible for guiding the fledgling projects to meet their full potential.

While ASUCD will be providing input on each selected venture, the Advisory Committee does not aim to assume control. Phillip Chu, a senior economics major and chairperson of the Entrepreneurship Fund, clarified the extent of influence the committee will hold.

“We don’t actually consult them with what to do with their business,” he said. “We recognize that in a university without a business school, it would be ill advised to do that. We just want to offer outside advice as a springboard for discussion. It’s a good idea to give an outside opinion, and can be very useful.”

Business proposals that are not chosen for funding are also welcome to seek advice from the committee.

“I’m very much in favor for kind of an ‘open door’ policy, so students that don’t get selected don’t get ignored,” Chu said. “We would still answer questions about their strategy.”

One such project was a microfinance company that would support economic growth in countries like Armenia.

The Advisory Committee attempts to hire students with sound foundations in economics and finance.

“The main thing is they do have a sound academic base,” Chu said.  “They are hardworking, reliable, and also students that share the vision of the program — inspiring students to pursue their ideas. The consulting relationship is not the same that you would get from a professional consulting firm, but rather it’s with respect to the idea that some of these students’ ideas will not be fully formed.  They just might not have had the opportunity to take a class on market research or how to write a business plan.”

Approximately six companies are working with the program, with three currently receiving full funding and a fourth officially selected to receive money sometime soon.  Examples include The Runaway Robot, a T-shirt company created by sophomore Alexander Ogloza, that will print designs centered around the thematic elements of various local charitable organizations. Half of the profit made on each eco-friendly, student-designed, and water-based inked shirt will be donated to their respective partner charity.

Cosine Concepts, another selected company, plans to create a smartphone application that links each student’s personal schedule to a calendar, complete with club events, practices, fundraisers and notifications on special happenings around campus.

ASUCD Senator Justin Goss is excited about the implications and possible monetary benefits of such an endeavor.

“I think this is really cool idea in that ASUCD potentially growing businesses is huge and totally unprecedented forward outreach for us,” he said. “Also, these projects can be clear targets for alumni to give back to UC Davis, as they might be more incentivized to give to a target instead of just this big ephemeral idea of the ‘university.'”

The budget, which currently comes from ASUCD, is already actively trying to reduce the subsidy from the school and is coordinating with alumni, as well as starting a donation site.

Holistically, members of the Fund seem energized about the future of such a unique program.

“It’s just a mind-blowingly romantic idea, job creation,” Goss said. “At least it’s a beginning effort to try and combat job loss. We talk a lot about ‘small business,’ but we use that word so much it sort of loses its meaning. But [the fund] gives college students something to do and gives them clear directions after they graduate.”

ADAM KHAN can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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