Listen to the ImpactX Podcast interview with David Wyman, 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. 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 student, 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?
Dave Wyman: My name is Dave Wyman. I’m the Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Charleston. At the Center for Entrepreneurship, our mission is to provide our students with experiential activities and connect them to the greater entrepreneurial network in Charleston and beyond.
Henrik de Gyor: How are you involved with ImpactX?
Dave Wyman: So the idea of ImpactX originates from a joint collaboration with a number of different players in the College of Charleston, including Christopher Star, who was at that time the Chair of the Computing Science Department. And the idea was that really we tried to design a program that we would want to take and that we thought was missing for college students. And the basis of this idea is to take one computer science students, one liberal arts and one business student i.e. create diversity in teams, put them together, and let them entrepreneur and create away. So what we use is a various elements of Steve Blank, the business model canvas, lean startups. We take a lot of the theory and practice from the lean startup era and apply that to the students to actually create their own technologically enabled startup. So that’s essential idea.
Dave Wyman: The second element of the idea is about three years ago one of our collaborators, Stuart Williams suggested “you know guys, a way to make this better…” And we’re always listening to ideas for how to make things better “…is to not just have the students create businesses that make a profit, but really put them into a situation where they can create a business that makes both of profit while making a difference. This idea really resonates with us, number one, because the millennials are really all about making a difference, trying to clean up the problems that us baby boomers got them. So that is really positive impact.
Dave Wyman: Secondly, the making a difference idea resonates because some of the pure profit ones with college students tended to be things like bar apps which are kind of fun but really don’t really make a big difference in the greater world. So this really allows the students to make a huge impact, both societal and environmental issues, which we believe are the greatest problems facing our society in the 21st century.
Henrik de Gyor: Dave, what are the successes and challenges with ImpactX to date?
Dave Wyman: Our aim is to actually create a… To enhance the entrepreneurial thinking of the students. So it’s not the aim is not that everybody creates a startup that makes it to the real world. Having said that so we can change their mindset and give them the tools to be entrepreneurial in the future. That’s fantastic. We don’t recommend that everybody drop out of school and do a Bill Gates and start their own business at age 19. You know, what research suggests is that most people who are really successful entrepreneurs, they start young but their main business that really makes it as probably in their thirties. So we’re really just trying to give them the tools. So I consider it like playing golf. The earlier you start, the better you’re going to get. But Garrett success is not guaranteed on the golf course. So they are not guaranteed, you know, the business for either.
Dave Wyman: So one of our biggest successes is the fact that a number of the businesses I’ve actually made it and really are making a difference. We have, for example, one team has raised over a quarter of a million dollars, so that’s about as the third best fin-tech accelerator in Atlanta, Georgia area, another team out of 500 companies, so selected to be one of the six teams in the Queen City Accelerator and Charlotte, another team was invited to spend the summer in Beaufort [SC] by the Mayor of Beaufort and the Rotary Club and spent the whole summer with them. So we’ve got those sort of successes even from our very first accelerator, we have a team led by Brandon and Brooks which did a company called Jyve and it’s still existing and here almost four years later. So those are some of the real great successes. But our real determinant of success is have we actually helped the students. Have we helped them realize their own entrepreneurial ambitions and thoughts even if that doesn’t mean starting companies straightaway. And I think the results from that are very positive feedback from the students. Amazing feedback. The challenges are that, you know, our biggest challenge is actually probably finding computer science students because of the nature of the College of Charleston as a liberal arts institution. We had very few computer science students and we’ve actually had very few honors students, so two have the initial pools from the class we really haven’t realize, but we’ve been able to manage around that.
Henrik de Gyor: Dave, what advice would you like to share it with future entrepreneurs that you’ve learned in the process?
Dave Wyman: The three pieces of advice I would say for future entrepreneurs is number one is that when you’re looking for new ideas, you really need a combination of two things. One is you need to get data first and then second, follow your passion from where that data leads you. What we found is if you do, if you don’t analyze the data, you don’t do a lot of the basic secondary research where you’re looking up online, talking primary research where you’re actually going and talking to future customers, competitors and things like that, then you end up with a business that sounds good, but really has no backbone. Then secondly, it’s when you create a team, you know, you really want something that people are passionate about. So what we found is that our successes as actual startups are things where the people, the students have utilized data and then followed their passion. So data first and passion. So the combination of both of those is really, I think, critical to success.
Dave Wyman: The second critical element of success is that you’re only as good as your network while we are blessed here in South Carolina, is that we have a number of Entrepreneurs In Residence, including you Henrik. Also, Stuart Williams who’s our Social Environmental Entrepreneur In Residence. You, who really helped out with all the technology side for the students. Also, Michael Cahill comes in every Spring and how with legal and venture capital background. As well as the fact that every student team typically has two mentors, one business venture and one technology mentor. So this incredible network around with students is really critical for their success. We also, as an academic, we have to do research. And so me and a couple of colleagues, I’ve just had a paper accepted at a major international conference called RENT in Spain, a presentation next month.
Dave Wyman: And what that paper does is it looks at all the early impact startups through a statistical study, not at all the early impact tries to tease out early impact studies startups out of a database of over a hundred thousand people. And what that shows is that the number one defining factor for whether you’re an impact startup, which is one of those startup that has a huge impact in terms of employment is social network. It’s in fact it’s the only variable that really resonates and cascades through all the top impact. So we think the social network is absolutely key for the creation of the entrepreneurial network.
Dave Wyman: And the third is just a personal element for startup entrepreneurs. And I think what we see is you have to be adaptable. You have to be open to advice and you have to be willing to iterate. Again, never using the lean startup model, build, measure, learn. You have to learn and some people are, I think the biggest defining change… the biggest difference between a startup entrepreneur and others, is the ability to adapt. The ability to learn from the feedback and pivot if necessary or iterate further and people who are just not willing to change, those are the people who really should not be entrepreneurs and they can be many other elements of the entrepreneurial process, but they’re not going to be the entrepreneurial leaders that our society and environment demand for the future.
Henrik de Gyor: Great. Well, Thanks Dave.
Dave Wyman: Thank you, Henrik
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.