You’ve read the headlines: the U.S. and global economy are undergoing unparalleled transformation. Product life cycles are contracting, formerly reliable business models are decimated by disruptive technologies, and financial markets eagerly invest in creating new competitors with concepts better positioned to deliver greater value to sophisticated markets. To some, the need to constantly reimagine their business is frightening, to entrepreneurs it’s thrilling.

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) has long been a recognized force for educating and equipping the brightest students in the latest developments for undergraduate and graduate programs. The David Nazarian College of Business and Economics recently launched a minor in Entrepreneurship available to all majors. CSUN now extends this edge with the next phase of its entrepreneurial ecosystem. Unique among universities of this caliber, a campus-wide initiative is in place, embracing all forms of innovation, with teams of students educated in diverse disciplines of physical and social sciences, engineering, the arts, the humanities, and business, to form multi-disciplinary teams tackling the toughest problems in the world.

Students at CSUN already enjoy a wealth of opportunities for creative self-expression. Regardless of major or year, they can participate in tech-focused showcases in artificial intelligence, app construction, virtual reality, and big data analysis. In these team-based “Jams,” students receive practical instruction in leading edge technologies, and apply them to real world problems and opportunities. Our MakerSpace instructs students on 3D printing, recording engineering, film, and a host of other creative tools. Here, students from all majors and all colleges within the university are encouraged to participate and give a physical expression to their deeper creative impulse, and possibly form the basis for a new company. But, the most common question among students is: How do I start?

CSUN’s traditional strengths in business, engineering, computer science, and the arts are supplemented by a variety of emerging disciplines in food, fashion, and social sciences, creating a reservoir of energized, highly trained students armed with provocative ideas. But rather than go to work for someone else, programs in entrepreneurship enable them to consider how they might build their own company.

With a recent National Science Foundation grant, CSUN joins the select ranks of just 86 other premier research universities, including UCLA and Cal Tech, to host an I-Corps program providing infrastructure, advice, resources, networking opportunities, training and modest funding to enable groups to transition their work into the marketplace. This federally funded program has bi-partisan support because of its demonstrated success teaching students practical ways to launch products that customers actually need. In less than six months of operation, CSUN students have formed over 20 teams and are traveling across the nation collecting consumer insights in a structured, hypothesis- driven, data-centric fashion. Irrespective of area or innovation, the lean startup I-Corps philosophy creates value. Even in areas such as our partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, students with a keen interest in social entrepreneurship are also encouraged to apply the same tools of innovation and customer discovery to build scalable, sustainable, world-class ventures in service to the public good.

In life, the best executions of the strongest ideas usually win. At CSUN, we embrace the notion that gamification and competition bring out the best in everyone. The David Nazarian College of Business and Economics hosts two different venture competitions annually, the Bull Ring and Fast Pitch, offering tens of thousands of dollars in prizes, and giving participants a taste for the hard realities promised by the marketplace. This also gives us a chance to celebrate the myriad of creative ways students circumvent obstacles that stopped others cold in their tracks.

The CSUN Innovation Incubator (Cii) provides startup ventures with facilities for bringing the team together in optimal surroundings. Acting as more than just a space, the Cii is designed to accelerate the process of business creation through a series of informative workshops, pitch events, and provides students with with best-in-class methods for product development and mentors for experiential learning. Beginning this June, Cii will host an inaugural summer accelerator in which 10 teams will receive mentorship, training and resources to achieve critical milestones for the launch of their ventures.

“Through the CSUN Summer Accelerator, we will cultivate students’ skill sets so that their current venture, or the next number of ideas they have, might manifest through a set of disciplines learned here at CSUN,” said Timothy Tiemann, Interim Managing Director of Cii.

So now, when a CSUN student develops an innovative solution that has eluded others in a senior design project, or any of the dozens of opportunities for innovation, they’ll have ready access to tools and training showing them how to take it to market. Whether through I-Corps customer discovery, Bull Ring competitions, or launching their venture via the Cii Accelerator, CSUN provides practical ways to elevate business concepts to reality. When students are equipped with practical ways to reduce venture risk, improve product/market fit, and encouraged by industry professionals, they tackle larger, more interesting problems fueled by their personal passions and interests. They learn what investors look for, they learn what markets demand, and they learn that the willingness to demand better answers to hard questions sets them apart.

Learn more about the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University, Northridge by visiting www.csun.edu/busecon

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