UMass Amherst Helps Launch Five-College Entrepreneur Program

AMHERST, Mass. - Students at the University of Massachusetts and area colleges who have big ideas and want to launch their own business, or learn how, will receive help and a chance at winning up to $10,000 from the UMass Five-College Entrepreneur Program this spring. The program will begin on Feb. 10 at 5:30 p.m. with an alumni forum in Mahar Auditorium moderated by James Theroux, Flavin Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University''s Isenberg School of Management. Speakers include UMass alumnus Jeff Taylor, CEO and founder of Monster.com.

Overall, the program is designed to bring together teams that include students, alumni mentors, and faculty, for a series of practical seminars on the skills needed to start a new business. Graduate and undergraduate students are invited to join the club, according to Jaymie Chernoff, director of economic development at UMass. Student teams will write business plans and submit them for the final competition for the $10,000 prize to be awarded in May. Venture capitalists and some alumni will judge the competition.

The UMass Five-College Entrepreneur Program, known as the Entreclub, is co-sponsored by the UMass Office of Economic Development, MassVentures Inc., and Hampshire College. Chernoff says colleges and universities are natural sites for innovative ideas, but they often don''t provide the connections between students, faculty, alumni, and venture capital firms that are needed to successfully launch new businesses. "What we''re trying to do with Mass Ventures and the Entreclub is to increase the culture of entrepreneurship on campus," Chernoff says. This spring, students can earn academic credit for developing a business plan through the program.

Joseph Steig, vice president at Mass Ventures, the venture capital firm based in Hadley, says a key to starting a successful business is finding the network of social and business interconnections that are critical in making new firms thrive. That is already beginning to happen for Paul G. Silva, a UMass senior and co-founder and lead designer for the company Zform LLC, which designs and develops computer games for both the visually impaired and the sighted. "The entrepreneur program is giving my idea a chance it never would have had before," Silva says. "It has already put me in contact with a community of entrepreneurial students and professionals, and its seminars will bring to campus some very talented people who will teach me the lessons they learned the hard way - so I don''t have to."

Other seminars during the spring will address how to write a business plan, networking, legal issues for new companies, market analysis, how to get financing, and business presentation skills. The Entreclub Web site is www.entreclub.com.