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Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Taps Vast Pool Of Student Business Ideas

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YALE REVITALIZING NEW HAVEN
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There's no shortage of students at Yale University who want to start a business. And while these students often aren't sure how to get their ideas off the ground, they needn't look too far.

The university's Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, now in its sixth year, is designed to "help aspiring student entrepreneurs bring to fruition their innovative ideas for startup companies," the university wrote in a background paper for the Global University Leaders Forum. The YEI offers services to all Yale students, along with a fellowship program where selected students can receive a stipend, mentorship and accounting advice, as well as access to potential investors.

Yahoo News reports that YEI has helped students launch "close to 100 companies, 52 of which are currently active." These student-founded companies have created at least 130 full time jobs, with one-third remaining in New Haven, the New Haven Register reported.

A grilled cheese delivery service called Cheeseboy came to fruition at YEI in 2009 and now has eight locations. Last year, YEI participants launched UnBuyThat, a service similar to StubHub. UnBuyThat offers users a chance to buy and sell "services with a shelf life," like dinner reservations, spin classes and Groupon purchases.

"So much of entrepreneurship is getting outside your office, testing your idea and performing customer discovery," Neil St. Clair, CEO and founder of UnBuyThat, told The Huffington Post. "Having structure and deadlines made us break out of just thinking about our ideas and forced us to execute."

According to a Yale communications office blog post, a recent survey found that "two of three Yale College students expressed an interest in being involved in entrepreneurial activity while at school."

Budding businesspeople aren't limited to Yale, and other top-tier universities are trying to encourage their own entrepreneurial students, too. Princeton University has a similar program called "eLab," which helps students develop new businesses ideas. Harvard has its "i-lab," and a Harvard business plan competition helped launch 35 companies in 2009 alone, CNN Money reported. At Stanford University, the same report found, 95 percent of students "take at least one course in entrepreneurship."

St. Clair, a current Yale graduate student, said that often the biggest challenge for student entrepreneurs is an "information deficit. How do you form an LLC, market to customers, legally structure a capital raise?"

Hugo Van Vuuren, a recent Harvard University graduate, started Experiment Fund, or Xfund, to help bridge that gap between college students who have great business ideas, but no connection to venture capital.

Van Vuuren told Fast Company in 2012 that research universities and venture funds "are two communities that should talk more ... right now they don't."

St. Clair noted that while university support is valuable, it doesn't mean student entrepreneurs will be able to avoid paying their dues early in their careers.

"A big part of YEI was also giving a group of first-time entrepreneurs a reality check," St. Clair said. "Being an entrepreneur isn't the 'Social Network,' it's long hours and hard work and staring at your personal and company bank accounts and seeing two sets of $0.00. If you can stare at that and persevere, you're an entrepreneur. YEI made us realize the dedication and sacrifices we would need to endure."

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