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The University of Virginia Holds Entrepreneurship Competition

The University of Virginia took a big step this week towards being as entrepreneur-friendly as other top institutions like Stanford and MIT are by sponsoring the U.Va. Cup competition, with $35,000 in prize money up for grabs.

The winners were Adam Malcom and Scott Kasen of U.Va's Engineering School, with a belt-based live preserver concept that is "more comfortable, unobtrusive and wearable than typical personal flotation devices."  Their design had previously won first place in a 2006 international competition by the Boat U.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association.

Competitions like this are key to encouraging entrepreneurism at an institution like U.Va.  When I graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce in 1998, the school was mostly a feeder school for the large investment banks in New York.  Being an entrepreneur at U.Va. in the late 90's was a very lonely experience, exacerbated by the institutions's attitude that as a public university, its hands were tied as to how proactive it could be in encouraging private endeavors like entrepreneurism.  In fact, I encountered quite a bit of resistance from the University while I was there.

Fortunately, these attitudes are changing.  One only need look to MIT and Stanford as models of how an academic + private partnership can bear tremendous fruit.  Companies like Yahoo and Google are a result of their founder's time at Stanford.  And it turns into a virtuous cycle, as Jerry Yang's $75MM pledge back to Stanford shows.

Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal summed it up well in this article:

Entrepreneurship Is Taught Through Life, Not In The Classroom

Yesterday a group of students from my alma mater, the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, came to visit.  They were spending a week in Silicon Valley as part of their spring break.

I've long privately urged McIntire to become more entrepreneur friendly.  When I was a student at U.Va. in the late 90's, it was a very unfriendly place for entrepreneurs.  It seems that things are finally changing, and the fact that these students were in California on spring break says a lot about their enthusiasm for tech startups.  I've also written in the past about how high school students have seemed more receptive and responsive to becoming entrepreneurs than college students.  It's almost like if one doesn't get introduced to the hunger to be an entrepreneur at young age, it becomes hard to impossible to stoke it later.  But this trip made me feel like there's hope for helping people find a passion for entrepreneurship later in life.  No matter what, though, I stressed to the students that came to visit that the passion had to come from within them.  The best a school can do is support those that want it badly enough to try.

We spent an hour together, and I shared stories with them about how I paid for college by making UVa-branded Frisbees, and sold a card called the Hoos Savings Club Card.  (It was way ahead of it's time -- basically an analog version of a daily deals service like Groupon).  Here are some related pics:

I'd go around to shops in the Charlottesville area, get them to agree to provide discounts to students for the school year, print the discounts on the back of the card, and sell the card for $20 to students.  For anyone in college today, it's a concept that would work just as well now as it did 15 years ago, and it's a great way to make $20k to $50k while you're in school, if you're willing to have a little bit of hustle.  

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