KTH among top universities invited into company-building program
KTH student start-ups now have a chance for support that is available to only a select group of universities in Europe.
KTH Royal Institute of Technology is one of 12 universities in Europe to become partners with the non-profit, U.S.-based FOUNDER.org, which offers graduating entrepreneurs from KTH a chance to compete for USD 100,000. They also can qualify for FOUNDER.org University, a 12-month company-building program taught by successful innovators and entrepreneurs.
Student teams are also eligible to apply for funding through FOUNDER.org Capital, a venture capital fund focused on student companies.
Now in its second year, FOUNDER.org was started by Michael Baum, whose entrepreneurial projects during the last 25 years include six start-ups, five acquisitions and the recent IPO of big data software company Splunk.
Baum says KTH’s commitment to the student start-up support system, comprised of KTH Innovation, Student Inc. and STING, was a major reason the university was invited to partner with FOUNDER.org.
Lisa Ericsson, head of the department KTH Innovation, says FOUNDER.org offers KTH graduates – including PhD students – “a unique opportunity to fast-track their company towards an international market”.
“It’s a fact that our graduates like to compete,” she says. “They have been successful in many national business plan competitions, and to be able to compete with the best teams from some of the top European and U.S. universities will raise the stakes even higher.”
FOUNDER.org’s 22 European and American partner universities include MIT, Harvard Business School, University of Cambridge, Stanford University and the École Polytechnique.
Baum says that KTH was recommended as a potential partner by Jeff Burton, the director of University of California at Berkeley’s SkyDeck accelerator program. Baum says Burton put him in touch with Lisa Ericsson.
“I’ve already learned from Lisa and her team that they have a pretty rigorous system”, he says. “A student who walks in the door with an idea is taken through a first gate, a second gate, a third gate; and at each one of those gates, they provide even more resources to those teams.”
Baum says he was also impressed with the way KTH draws on the school’s alumni network to help promising start-ups. “I haven’t seen that at any other school, and we’re working with a lot of great schools,” he says.
KTH’s greatest strengths in supporting start-ups are the “support the school gets from the government, the program KTH Innovation that the school put together, and the rigour that they are taking to it,” he says.
Ericsson says that the university’s proven record for producing great start-ups – by alumni, researchers and students – might have also played a role in FOUNDER.org’s decision to select KTH.
It also helps that the two partners see eye-to-eye on the best approach for supporting and creating “start-ups that chase big ideas”, she says. “We focus on practical experiencing, not only on the actual learning like so many other university programs.”
FOUNDER.org is already taking applications online for its student start-up competition. The deadline is April 15. Each of the top 10 finalists will take home USD 100,000 and 50 semi-finalists will be accepted into the 12-month FOUNDER.org University. Accomplished innovators teach the university’s curriculum, which is focused on building a high growth company. The teams also interact with each other on assigned projects.
In addition, the organisation has a dedicated fund (FOUNDER.org Capital) for start-ups, as well as an extensive referral network of venture capital and angel investors.
A launch event is planned to begin on March 6 at KTH with a number of activities, including inspirational speakers and a chance for student teams, or individuals, to deliver elevator pitches (an audience vote will determine which ones get to attend a more intimate lunch or dinner meeting with the FOUNDERs.org team).
Baum says one of the main roles of his organization is to build a bridge between universities’ entrepreneurial and innovation curricula and the “real-world action of building an impactful company”, including recruiting talent, operational planning and scaling the business.
“We are focused on the literacy of company building,” he says. “They don’t learn that in school, or even typically in their first company. It takes quite a long time, and successes and failures, before you figure all of this stuff out.”
Ericsson says that the partnership with FOUNDER.org strengthens the international network for KTH Innovation, Student Inc. and the STING incubator, which comprise one of the leading start-up support systems for university students in Europe.
“KTH produces a lot of very excellent students and research, but our home market is very small,” she says. “To be able to succeed, Swedish entrepreneurs have to reach out fast to bigger markets.”