It’s one thing to conceive an idea for a business while you’re in college. It’s another to have money to fund it — especially if you are from an underserved community.
Rowan University’s new School of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which opened in January, aims to change that. Starting Tuesday, the school will begin accepting applications for the Startup Opportunity Fund, an initiative that will give grants of up to $2,500 for entrepreneurs from underserved communities.
“We have a lot of students who enter the university with wildly disparate access to personal resources, family resources,” Liguori told ROI-NJ. “Certainly, some of our students come in and have ample means to go and cover some of the costs of starting a venture through their own savings or family sources, but we have a lot of students don’t have that same access.”
Supported in part by private donors, the fund will provide seed money to students seeking to start their own business. It will open with $30,000 — although Liguori and the school hope to raise more money.
“Rowan needs to be an economic catalyst for the region and, in doing so, it has to find a way to lift up the percentage of population that doesn’t have the same sort of advantage that everybody else does,” Liguori said.
“This fund is really designed to be a leveler. It is something that Rowan’s entrepreneurship advisory council really got behind, as they are looking to create an opportunity for as many people as possible to use entrepreneurship as a pathway forward.”
In order to be awarded a grant, aspiring entrepreneurs must demonstrate financial need — and show how funding will lead to traction.
Liguori said it’s about increasing opportunity.
“Some students might just need $500 to get their business started — and, while some of our students could simply pull those funds from their bank account or get it from family, not all of our students can,” he said.
Funding is available to all first-generation students and students of color, including those graduating in the spring of 2023 or in the 12 months prior. It is open to individual and group applicants, and all Rowan students, including those in Rowan’s medical schools, affiliated community colleges and recent graduates, may apply.
Funding could help support a variety of startup costs like licenses and permits, supplies, prototyping, marketing materials, even provisional patent filing.
“There are so many of these little hits that do add up quickly,” Liguori said. “And it is really easy to waste what little bit of money you have in the wrong way. And so, we’re layering in mentorship with the fund to help people prioritize and invest the funds as wisely as possible.”
Starting this fall, additional program resources including professional development and mentorship components will be added.
SIE lecturer Greg Payton, a Rowan alumnus and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion at PNC Bank, will head the mentorship aspect of the program.
“This was just such a logical fit for Payton to lead this program, as it paralleled from his corporate career into his academic one,” Liguori said.
Payton will help oversee not only the mentoring, but the grant program and its workshops and guest speakers that it will provide.
“It’s a real opportunity to make a difference in the community and to help students start their own business,” he said.
Founded in January, the SIE developed out of the long-running Rowan Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship within the RCB. The Startup Opportunity Fund program is one of its first ventures.