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Million dollar endowment to spur student entrepreneurship

A $1 million endowment established by the Forest Akers Trust will help fund Michigan State University student business plans and deepen the pool of capital available to enterprising undergraduates in MSU’s expanding “entrepreneurship ecosystem.” The endowment is designed to spur student initiative and creativity through learning-by-doing, reflecting the university’s emphasis on undergraduate research and engagement. It also could help spin out more job-generating businesses from the university, supplementing a $600,000 endowment established last year by the Midland-based Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation to support student entrepreneurship at MSU.

Undergraduates who develop business concepts can form teams, cultivate faculty and industry mentors, and request business plan or start-up support – up to $5,000. Advisory panels of MSU representatives and industry experts will oversee the grants and help awardees make business connections and tap support services.

Whereas the Gerstacker endowment is earmarked for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM disciplines – the funds from the Akers Trust are open to students in all programs. Between the two endowments’ $1.6 million in invested funds, upwards of $80,000 in earnings is expected to be available annually to fund student enterprise and develop programming across the university curriculum.

“Undergraduate research and our ability to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit in many of our students is a high-impact learning experience,” said Douglas Estry, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies.

“High-impact experiences enable students to become more deeply engaged in their academics by providing opportunities for hands-on learning and interaction with faculty and peers who can help guide their exploration,” he said.

“Through this process, students then begin to understand how the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom can make a difference in the world around them. It makes learning real and exciting.”

In August, the university rolled out msuENet, an initiative offering courses leading to an entrepreneurship certificate. Endowment funded start-up capital is one component of that initiative. Others include networks of young entrepreneur groups and a student business incubator, The Hatch, opening at the East Lansing Technology Innovation Center (TIC) across Grand River Avenue from the campus.

Graduate and faculty research spanning the curriculum is a strong complement to the university’s broad undergraduate entrepreneurship focus. Technology transfer is shepherded through the MSU Technologies office and corporate research relationships are promoted through MSU Business-CONNECT, both also located in the East Lansing TIC. Established by the late Forest Akers, an MSU trustee from 1940 to 1958, the Forest Akers Trust Fund has donated millions of dollars to support MSU, its students and faculty by funding athletic, recreational and cultural facilities; academic programs; professorships; and study abroad.