1492 Grant Competition Spurs Students, Alumni Toward Entrepreneurship

CCAD’s Career Services office is at the forefront of an accelerated competition to launch the next great company in Central Ohio and is simultaneously hosting a startup "crash course" to spur innovation among entrepreneurs.

The competition, tagged 1492, is a collaboration among TechColumbus, Columbus College of Art & Design (CCAD), and Columbus State Community College (CSCC) with support from Ohio’s Third Frontier.

Just prior to 1492’s mid-October deadline, CCAD also is hosting Startup Weekend Columbus, an intense 54-hour event that focuses on entrepreneurs and how to produce a product or idea from artistic, design, and product perspectives. The weekend can form the basis of a credible business.

Cynthia Gravino, director of CCAD’s Career Services office, said 1492 will help fund and coach five start-up finalists.

“The tech community recognizes the need for creative minds and CCAD is the place to go for creativity,” she said. “There is tremendous support around launching technology and medical devices companies, but often what is missing is the creative element.”

“Our students are creative, a process which doesn’t have ‘rules.’ They’re comfortable thinking outside the box and are becoming more tech oriented, so the energy and synergy are fantastic.”

Greg Pugh, director of IT Commercialization at TechColumbus, said an ideal 1492 candidate is someone who has new ideas to bring to market. “We absolutely are looking to draw on the student, faculty and alumni base of the two schools. We work with mainstream relationships and in our attempt to diversify contacts are reaching out to CCAD and Columbus State, in particular.”

“The whole idea and 1492’s reason-to-be is economic development in Ohio,” Pugh said. “Facilitating innovation means reaching out to other groups, getting their ideas, and giving people who aren’t mainstream entrepreneurs a shot at investment dollars.”

The broader base that 1492 seeks ultimately will be whittled to 10 finalists, who are selected based upon written business briefs to make formal pitches before the 1492 judging committee.

From those 10, five will be chosen to receive up to $20,000 each in startup funding, along with business coaching services to help launch the enterprises. The focus of 1492’s first effort a couple of years ago was on mobile technologies, but this time organizers will competitively evaluate any business idea.

In addition to financial assistance and mentoring, this year’s finalists will benefit from the experience of 1492's first business launch: MobileXpeditions, founded by Mark Gilicinski.

Pugh said Gilicinski is active on the current committee and will participate in the mentoring and educational series.

“Mark rose to the top because of his passion and his vision," said Pugh. "He communicated what he wanted to do and why.  And he did that well. He conveyed confidence that he could pull [his plan] off.”

“You talk to Mark for just two minutes and you understand the passion,” Pugh said.

The 1492 competition deadline is Oct. 12. In order for applicants to compete for the $20,000 grant, they must meet two other contingencies: supply $5,000 of their own money so that, in the end, they will have $25,000 to start their business; and secondly, commit to 12 weeks of coaching and mentoring services that will take place on CCAD’s campus beginning Oct. 15.

Pugh said finalists have to be able to commit to 12 Wednesday work sessions from 4-7 p.m. The training is purposely structured so that somebody working a regular or full-time job has an opportunity to participate. “It will be like going back to school,” he predicts.

“Starting your own company is an incredible amount of work,” Gilicinski said. He describes it as “a foolhardy exercise that can be truly rewarding,” thanks to the tools that 1492 gave him to bring his idea to reality.

Gilicinski believes “no one can get a business started without focus, deadlines, and mentoring.” He said deadlines impose a finite amount of time to demonstrate the viability of an idea, while mentoring offers opportunities to vet a company or product with others who can objectively determine if the idea is interesting and compelling. He said mentoring also limits risk.

The MobileXpeditions founder credits 1492 as giving him “critical mass of resources and focus” for his smart phone mobile apps. Gilicinski found a quick way to tell a story and created an app to share content.  For example, a zoo or museum can use the app to help visitors explore physical space or food or art or architecture.  In other words, a good description is “a docent in a pocket.”

The company has created four apps for Celebrity Cruises, available in multiple languages, to describe the art aboard cruise ships and the artists to passengers.  The product also can be used in a business-to-business application as a sales tool.

“No matter who uses our apps, it gets back to storytelling,” Gilicinski said. He describes his company as “making significant progress with successes along the way.” In the early stages he recalled asking his wife to bear with him for just “another three or four months.” Now, only two years later, he’s passionately advocating on behalf of other entrepreneurs while focusing on more successes for MobileXpeditions.

Just prior to the 1492 deadline, CCAD is hosting Startup Weekend Columbus, which also coincides with CCAD’s Family Weekend & Homecoming on Oct. 7 and 8. Startup Weekend brings together people with different skill sets—primarily software developers, graphic designers, and business people—to build applications and develop commercial cases around them.

Pugh said 1492's deadline is timed specifically so that Startup Weekend participants can enter. The two efforts are unrelated but the relationship benefits both groups, he explained.

CCAD's Gravino said students who participate in Startup Weekend will be encouraged to apply for the 1492 funding. “All the energy of the alumni, students, and parents will be very supportive of the entrepreneurial mindset,” she predicts.

“With Startup Weekend and 1492 counseling taking place on campus, Career Services is confident that students, faculty, and alumni will feel especially encouraged to start their own businesses and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams,” Gravino said.

Information on applying for the 1492 grant can be found at http://www.onefourninetwo.com/.

Startup Weekend Columbus can be found at http://columbus.startupweekend.org/.