A metal placard will hang on the fourth floor of the 1959 E St. residence hall this year, with a message for visitors of the aspiring entrepreneurs living there: “You’re all going to be working for us one day.”
Twenty-two students moved into the University’s first living community for entrepreneurs this weekend, unpacking boxes to live with peers who will help them formulate business ideas.
They will spend the year in entrepreneurial boot camp, perfecting pitch techniques and mingling with local startup managers and venture capitalists to make their floor a social scene and a business classroom.
“One thing we’re trying to push really hard is building a community of people who trust each other and can tell each other whether an idea is receptive,” said Trever Faden, an information systems technology major who created the affinity housing group. “That honesty determines whether it’s a feasible idea and creates business.”
The University is adding offerings for entrepreneurs at a time when top schools funnel millions of dollars into student startups. But the affinity housing group, alongside other initiatives, could kindle the culture of entrepreneurship at GW, Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship Jim Chung said.
And through floor parties and brainstorming sessions, the group hopes to create a sounding board to shape their own startups.
Faden already runs his own business, a cost-saving startup called Dogfish Labs that works with companies, like the analytics group Callahan & Associates, to cut excess spending. He said he gains insight from D.C.’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene, but added that his classmates often “don’t know about the opportunities available outside the school.”
“We have the ability to force students to work together and create things that they wouldn’t be able to do if they just met once at a student organization,” Faden said. He called the entrepreneurs who started companies like Amazon, Facebook and LivingSocial “pop icons,” inspiring a new wave of entrepreneurs inspired by business successes and “The Social Network.”
When Faden pitched the entrepreneurship affinity housing option to GW Housing Programs, he didn’t think it would make the cut. But an email blast advertising it to business and engineering students drew interest from 50 students.
The flood of inquiries shows that more and more students are looking to develop business acumens, Chung said.
The two-year-old Office of Entrepreneurship runs programming like the annual business plan competition, which saw its most entries ever last year, and a “venture pub” – a series of networking sessions that will launch this fall to link students and alumni at local restaurants.
While the affinity housing project grew as strictly a student initiative, Chung said the office would lend a hand to help students get business ideas off the ground.
“Starting a company is a very tough thing to do, and having that support network and having that kind of environment is absolutely critical,” Chung said. “What we’re trying to do is build a safe and friendly environment for the exploration of entrepreneurship as a viable career alternative for the students. The affinity housing is a part of that.”
He added that the diversity of student interests, from science to engineering to business, will fuse in 1959 E St. to help students collaborate like those at research and entrepreneurship powerhouses like Stanford, University of Michigan and University of Maryland, which have dedicated entire residence halls and degree programs to entrepreneurs.
The group is split between males and females and includes one-third engineers and two-thirds business students.
Affinity housing has helped former residents at University of Wisconsin-Madison create products ranging from skateboard accessories to medical devices since it began in 2008, John Surdyk, associate director of its entrepreneurship program.
“In many ways, it’s like a launching point with these students,” he said. “They’re playing with these concepts and building their professional networks, but it may be a few years before they go further.”
Faden said the living community at GW will look to cultivate that launching point and inspire students to grit through business failure.
“There’s never going to be a class at the University about how to be a hustler. You have to know how to get things done,” he said.