(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Bobby Gattuso became a startup founder while an undergraduate at Towson University.
Even as the company gained attention outside the university, however, Gattuso had help on campus. Through a program called Student Launch Pad, he attended events and seminars. He’s also received guidance from Director of Entrepreneurship Frank Bonsal III, and other mentors. And now, as a member of the TU Incubator, he’s around other startups, as well.
“It definitely jumpstarted Hop Theory,” Gattuso said.
The resources represent a few ways that the Incubator team is looking to create community around entrepreneurship within the university. The small team at the TU Division of Innovation & Applied Research is rolling out several additions that indicate what it’s becoming, as they look to nurture new businesses both on campus and within the wider university community.
There are signs of further integration into the university, too. The addition of student startups into the incubator, for instance, is a new category of membership. Previously, most companies were started outside the university, and sought out the incubator for guidance.
“We’ve created this different membership category specifically geared toward students,” program manager Stephanie Chin said during an interview.
Along with the new membership categories, there is new flexible workspace designed to bring people together following a move last year to offices at 7400 York Rd. In addition to the 14 offices and meeting rooms in the university-owned space, the incubator now has a 1,700-square-foot space, with room for companies to cowork and hold events.
The incubator has 22 member companies. There are startups in health IT, business services and even a bar app.
But a concentration has developed with nine startups in edtech, and that isn’t accidental.
“It aligns really well with the university’s expertise and core competency,” said Chin. The university was founded as a training school for teachers, and continues to have a strong education program. Bonsal, in turn, is also a former teacher and evangelist for the city’s edtech community, as well as an investor.
Khalid Smith, cofounder of Lessoncast, said the university’s history and the incubator’s expertise made it an ideal choice.
“The connection to the university was a pull because we really work in teacher education,” he said.
Honor Scroll also sought out the incubator. The company is working to develop a platform that helps students share notes and connect for study sessions.
CEO Christopher Vasiliades, who is a Towson University alum, said the incubator team has helped him expand his network, and team members have worked with them to lay out and hit milestones in building the company.
“They care about their members,” Vasiliades said. “They care about each individual company.”
Even if it’s not specifically about education content, the incubator’s concentration has big benefits, said Lessoncast’s Smith. Even when it comes to fundraising or legal issues that all startups have to go through, education-oriented startups can bring an extra bit of scrutiny due to the risk involved, and have specific issues.
“Having an extra bit of vetting from someone known in that industry is really important, even for things that are non-education related,” he said.
The incubator also organizes events. On Wednesday, it’s hosting a meetup of Baltimore Teacherpreneurs. A 90-day membership in the incubator is at stake at the annual TU Business Plan Competition. Executive summaries are due Feb. 22. A series of workshops is also planned this spring with Allovue CEO Jess Gartner, Mindgrub CEO Todd Marks, Bonsal and others.
Students don’t necessarily have to have a business already, as some programming is geared toward helping students come up with an idea. “Other events are geared toward people who already have an idea that we can help them with,” Chin said.
In April, the Launch Pad is organizing a Student Startup Weekend to provide an overview of turning an idea into a business.
Though it’s easy to see how they are increasingly complementary, the two programs leaves the team, which also includes Entrepreneurship Associate Zach Jones, toggling back and forth. To help with that balance, an assistant director was recently hired, and is set to come onboard, Chin said.