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Steve Fouty, director of McDermond Center, sits in front of a mural of students' faces.

New student-led groups step up support for DePauw-related entrepreneurs

Let’s say you’re a DePauw student and you’ve got a promising idea for a new business. 

It used to be that you could pitch the idea in a competition sponsored by the DePauw Entrepreneurship Group and perhaps come away with a cash prize – $1,500, $750 or $500 – that might help with startup costs.

But starting this fall, a new student-led organization called DePauw Innovations will provide much more comprehensive support to student entrepreneurs, as well as alumni and faculty and staff members who want to start a company. The pitch competition will still exist, with its parent group rebranded the DePauw Engaged Entrepreneur Group, but DePauw Innovations will enable students to go far beyond pitching their ideas.

Maybe all the way to finding startup funding, launching their own companies and seeing them succeed.

DePauw leaders, including Steve Fouty, director of the Robert C. McDermond Center for Management & Entrepreneurship, have been kicking around ideas for a while, trying to settle on ways to beef up DePauw’s support of would-be entrepreneurs. Then out of the blue in April, Fouty received an email from Kinder Jones ’21, a member of DePauw’s men’s golf team and then a junior studying abroad.

They had never met; despite his interest in venture capital and startups, Jones, a history major, did not realize that the McDermond serves all students, regardless of their major and whether or not they are management fellows.

“I really got into venture capital and startups last summer,” Jones said, when he worked for Thumbraise, a St. Louis concern that uses video pitches to connect investors and company founders. While studying during the spring at the University of Edinburgh, which provides many resources for student entrepreneurs, Jones researched what other universities do for such students.

“I’ve seen that we have those students at DePauw,” he said, “so I just felt it was something that could be really useful at our school.”

Said Fouty, who had been looking for a student with sufficient interest to honcho the program: “I was doing the happy dance. This was awesome.”

Fouty had, after all, wished to expand DePauw’s offerings to would be entrepreneurs for some time and had gotten the buy-in he needed from the vice presidents for academic affairs and finance and administration. Now, with Jones serving as student president and bringing along a team that includes fellow rising seniors Taylor “T.J.” Carney-DeBord as chief operating officer and Caroline Schmerge as chief marketing officer, DePauw Innovations will function as a small venture capital firm focusing on development and funding startups founded by students, alumni and faculty and staff members. It will provide resources, tools and mentors as well as workspace at the Tenzer Hub for Entrepreneurship, a co-working space in Greencastle, and the McDermond Entrepreneurship & Tenzer Technology Extension at the Union 525 building in Indianapolis.

Kinder Jones '21
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Caroline Schmerge '21
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T.J. Carney-DeBord
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The DePauw Gold Within Angel Network will be launched simultaneously, with the goal of connecting DePauw-related startups seeking angel funding with alumni – many of whom already mentor students or volunteer as guest speakers at the McDermond center – who are interested in investing in them.

“With both initiatives being student-led, the real-world learning experience for our students will provide new opportunities not currently offered on campus,” Fouty said.

Carney-DeBord ’21, an economics major and an infielder on DePauw’s baseball team, said that, “from Day 1 coming onto campus, you hear about the alumni network. It’s one of DePauw’s biggest strengths. With our network, we have people in a vast array of industries, one of which is venture capital, and I think if we can just connect with all those successful alumni in that industry specifically, not only can we do some of these venture deals but we can also just connect with the alumni in a great way to build relationships.”

Schmerge ’21, a cellular and molecular biology major with marketing experience, said “this actually is the first time I’ve been exploring the venture capital space. This group can be really beneficial to students like me who actually don’t know about the space but maybe wouldn’t even know they have an interest in it.”

Said Jones: “In the world we live in today versus maybe 30 years ago, it’s easier than ever to start your own company, with all the technology we have at our fingertips. I mean, any one of us could theoretically develop an app that could change the world, just on our laptop. You couldn’t just do that 30 years ago and I think more and more kids in our generation are realizing that they can do their own thing and start their own company and still make a living, and they don’t want to necessarily go into the cubicles or work in office jobs.

“If you just look around at universities across the country … we’re in a unique situation where we have our talented student body but we also have the alumni support and the endowment. We’ve got all of the structure like a big school, but with a much smaller student body, which helps the students even more.”

 (Top photo: Steve Fouty)

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