Boise State University expects to spend more than a half million dollars over the next two years in a program to help entrepreneurial students lay the groundwork for launching businesses.
The pilot project could spur economic development in the Treasure Valley, the university said.
Boise State's new Venture College, which will start this fall, is a noncredit and extracurricular program that will pair about 15 students with local business mentors and Boise State employees to shepherd students' visions for starting businesses into reality. Some of those students could get a chunk of the $30,000 a year that Boise State is prepared to inject into their businesses.
Whether they succeed or fail, the students would not have to repay the money, university officials said. The university would not receive any ownership in a company.
The money will come from revenue associated with university research grants and contracts, not public funds, officials said.
Boise State's Venture College is one way the school can help encourage startup businesses, university President Bob Kustra said. "If a city can't figure out how to grow its own (businesses), I don't think there is a future for it in the 21st century," he said.
Venture College is similar to programs at Boise State that help faculty turn research into business prospects. But the college is aimed at students - regardless of their major - who have an idea that could lead to creating jobs, said Kevin Learned, Venture College director.
"We will work with them to help them do the planning to launch their businesses," Learned said.
Learned co-founded a successful computer-based accounting-system company 30 years ago and is the former president of the College of Idaho. Today he is an angel investor who invests in startups.
Ed Zimmer, former CEO of the ECCO Group in Boise, which makes emergency lighting, will be the associate director of Venture College.
A committee of local business people called Venture College Angels will review students' plans and award university money to those with viable business proposals, Learned said.
Venture College has been under discussion for two years. It grew out of a chance encounter between a Boise State art student and Mark Rudin, vice president of research and economic development. The student told Rudin that he would like to start a foundry.
At the same time, Kustra said he was interested in finding ways a student could earn a degree and still work toward launching a business.
The program did not need approval of the State Board of Education because it is not part of the academic program, Kustra said.
Learned said the program will take about 15 students a year. They need to come with plenty of ambition and good ideas. Students will go through an admission process that includes writing a paper and interviews.
"Out of our 20,000 students, a very small handful will find this compelling," Learned said.
The college's budget is $260,000 per year.
If the pilot succeeds, university officials say the number of students could increase to 50, and the university would look for federal grants and other money to operate it.
The application deadline for fall is April 12.