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ICAT Program Fuels Next Generation of Impact Entrepreneurs

What do a software company that helps millennials wisely invest their money and a celebrity-endorsed feminine product line have in common? Both of their founders are current College of Charleston School of Business students and members of the School’s Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Technology (ICAT) program.

xtraWith approximately 105 young entrepreneurs passing through the program since its inception in 2015, ICAT provides business, computer science and liberal arts students with opportunities and resources to create, manage and execute their own impact entrepreneurship projects.  

Impact entrepreneurship, according to Chris Starr  — co-founder and director of ICAT and associate professor of information management at the business school — is about making a profit while simultaneously making a positive impact on local and global communities.

More than just an impact entrepreneurship incubator, ICAT is an official six-credit business and applied technology course that challenges students from different disciplines to use their varying areas of expertise and shared passions to help solve some of today’s most pressing issues.

“The ultimate goal of ICAT isn’t about creating successful businesses or making money,” says Starr. “It’s about equipping students with the skills to thrive in a competitive, technology-driven business environment and instilling in them the personal and professional value of meaningful, impactful careers."

The First of Its Kind

ICAT, the brainchild of Starr and his colleague and fellow applied-technology advocate David Wyman (associate professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship), was formed in partnership with the School of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship and Office of Economic Development.

ICAT StudentsWyman and Starr agree: ICAT is the first program of its kind. Most institutions that offer this type of experience are engineering schools, or limit participation to graduate students. “The fact that a liberal arts university has launched an undergraduate program of this nature is distinctive,” says Starr. “We are so thankful to have the support of Dean Shao and President McConnell who trusted us to do something different. It’s changing the lives of our students in a major way.”

What’s more, the combination of disciplines to form each team is as unique as it is strategic. According to Wyman, research suggests that company founders who are exactly alike have a much smaller chance of creating a successful enterprise.

The two colleagues also maintain that ICAT goes beyond providing standard experiential learning opportunities, and instead immerses students in what they refer to as “consequential learning” — where they get to spend and invest real money with real life consequences.

And while ICAT is based out of Charleston, opportunities abound for students to travel internationally and across the country through ICAT Global and ICAT Academy programs.

“Our aim is to turn a niche program that affects 40 plus students a year into a broader program that expands across our campus to other campuses across the globe,” says Wyman.

Providing Opportunities for Success

Housed in a modern glass room located in the rear of the Beatty Center's atrium, the ICAT space has everything you would expect of a startup incubator, including a cold-brew coffee kegerator and an assortment of healthy snacks — perfect for fueling brilliant ideas and growing minds. 

Demo DayIn addition to these perks, each ICAT team has access to two mentors — one industry and one technology expert — who guide them through the entire process, from brainstorming and prototyping to testing and launching.

Students are also given the opportunity to win $1,000 at the Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award ceremony and up to $10,000 at the final pitching competition for the academic year, known as ICAT Demo Day. Other Demo Day prizes include a chance to present their business model to the United Nations. 

After completing the yearlong program, students are equipped with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to be more adaptable, communicative and ready to take calculated risks, says Wyman — who likens the skill building to playing golf. “The more you play, the better you get.”

Exciting Developments

Impact Investors BallWith the spring semester officially behind us, this year’s ICAT cohort still has plenty of work ahead of them. Their yearlong projects will culminate at the inaugural Impact Investor’s Ball this September, where the young entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to showcase their companies and share their passion with the Charleston business community. If all goes well, many of these students may walk away with future clients or even investors. Now, that’s consequential!

For more information about the Impact Investor's Ball, click here.

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