Listen to the ImpactX Podcast interview with Christopher Starr, Ph.D. discuss the ImpactX Accelerator Program at the College of Charleston. You can also read the transcript below.
Henrik de Gyor: This is the ImpactX Podcast. I’m Henrik de Gyor, Technical Entrepreneur [In Residence] at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. In this series of podcasts, I’m going to be interviewing students and professors from the ImpactX accelerator inside the business school at the College of Charleston. You’ll hear from the professors who run the program as well as all the students in each team participating in the accelerator. Each team comprises of a business student, a liberal arts students, and often a computer science student for a purposeful friction with different perspectives on the same problem that they’re trying to solve as a business. One of the unique aspects of the ImpactX accelerator program is the use of the UN sustainable development goals that are required for every venture by the ImpactX program so that you can make a profit while making an impact. Each team was interviewed a number of times as there are venture progresses, and now onto the interview.
Henrik de Gyor: Who are you and what do you do?
Chris Starr: Henrik, I am Chris Starr. I’m a Professor of Information Management at the College of Charleston in the School of Business. I’ve been at the college for 32 years now as a instructor in computer science, chair of computer science, and now moved to the School of Business for a new opportunity to help students understand how to apply technology for business value. So I’d like to talk more about the ImpactX program.
Henrik de Gyor: How are you involved with the ImpactX?
Chris Starr: I am one of the co-founders of the ImpactX program with David Wyman. The ImpactX program grew out of a grassroots effort between faculty to break down the silos of academics. It’s intended to bring students together from computer science and technical departments, students from the liberal arts who think differently from a technical student and business students in a shared learning and experiential process of building a technical startup company. We started ImpactX under a different name four years ago with a half a million dollars in funding. Half from the State of South Carolina and half from philanthropy. So the program is self-sustaining through gifts from successful entrepreneurs of the past and continues to generate the next generation of entrepreneurs from the College of Charleston.
Chris Starr: Chris, what are the successes and challenges within ImpactX to date?
Henrik de Gyor: ImpactX, I think of as an experiment. It’s a successful experiment in showing how you can take highly capable students and put them together with a challenge to both learn academic concepts and apply those concepts in a way that provides experiential learning or perhaps even better consequential learning so they understand and are motivated by the experience to engage academically in the subject area that they’re studying in their major and in cross training, in subject areas that they’re not specializing in.
Chris Starr: In ImpactX, the three topical areas include business, technology and design, and so students are organized into teams of three, each bringing in those capabilities as complementary assets to the team. So all the students come into the ImpactX program, signing up for two classes. One in technology that I teach, hosted by the Supply Chain and Information Management Department and the other class in Entrepreneurship.
Chris Starr: It’s these two classes that carve out enough time in their academic schedules to allow them to study the concepts of business and technology with design and to implement a startup company going from zero to the first customer in 14 weeks. The challenges of ImpactX include finding enough time in a student’s schedule for high-end students who may already be double majoring or triple majoring in different subjects to graduate in four years and still start a company. Another challenge is to bring students together into a room where they do not all have the same prerequisites and they have to learn to deal with what it means to cross train. To compensate for these problems, we have done an outstanding job, I think, and bringing together resources for the student experience, including funding for actual product development and business formation, and mentors for the teams.
Chris Starr: It has been our practice to bring two mentors in from the community for each team. One mentor will usually represent the business sector for a technical startup and the other will be a technologist who can help with the technical questions that the students have. The biggest and most important outcomes for me is how students will be in a class that doesn’t have a straight trajectory toward perfection or toward a grade of an A. Many of our students, all of whom are honorable and many in the honors program are accustomed to classes that are prescribed so they know exactly how to march through the academic material to achieve a level of performance that will result in mastery. And of course the grade of an A, but an ImpactX, the situation is quite different. The outcome, while they can articulate it isn’t easy to find that is not easy to start a start a company and do so by solving a real problem with a real solution for actual customers. And that level of ambiguity that ImpactX provides to these students is a learning outcome that’s quite rare at the university. And I’m quite proud that ImpactX can provide that now at the College of Charleston.
Henrik de Gyor: Chris, what advice would you like to share with future entrepreneurs that you’ve learned in this process?
Chris Starr: I’d like to encourage future entrepreneurs that they should start as early as possible. ImpactX brings in the undergraduates as actual cofounders of companies rather than waiting until midlife to start a company. It’s advantageous according to the literature to start early so that your experiences can grow over multiple iterations of company startups. And the second thing I would suggest is that everyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship study technology. You’ve got to understand how the technology enables the company to move forward and as a startup, your technology prowess may be the differentiator between success and failure.
Henrik de Gyor: Well, thanks Chris.
Chris Starr: You’re quite welcome.
Henrik de Gyor: We hope you enjoyed listening to the ImpactX Podcast. For more about the ImpactX program, visit impactx.cofc.edu. Don’t forget to rate, review, and subscribe to hear about future episodes. Thanks for listening.