By Jada Simone
Established in 1973, the Michigan State University Foundation is a non-profit corporation that fuels economic development initiatives. According the MSU Foundation’s website, the program focuses on the support of research, invention, and entrepreneurship.
One of the programs sponsored by the MSU Foundation is the Conquer Accelerator. According to their website, the program empowers cohorts through extensive mentorship and a tailored curriculum over a ten week period. It is designed to guide both startups and established companies.
We had the opportunity to speak with MSU Foundation Communications Manager, Aaryn Richard, regarding their Conquer Accelerator program.
LM: What is the process for startups and companies to begin working with the conquer accelerator?
Aaryn Richard: There is an application process after we send out a call to those who may be interested. We also engage in some networking at trade shows and follow up on recommendations as well.
We go through a rigorous application process. We do the interview with a roundtable of our folks and we begin selecting who we believe either fits the portfolio or who we can help out best and then we make the offer.
LM: Does the MSU Foundation mainly focus on Lansing and the MSU community or do you reach out to neighboring townships and cities as well?
Aaryn Richard: The MSU Foundation works with many businesses and organizations in different areas. For instance the Lansing Economic Area Partnership is a deep well of knowledge and they are definitely an organization we reach out to to ensure that we’re working with area partners.
We work with TC New Tech, which is Traverse City New Tech located in Traverse City. They are another entrepreneurial organization that we work with very closely. Along with Invest Detroit, Invest Michigan and Grand Rapids Angels. We’re working with Michigan entrepreneurial based communities and business minded organizations.
LM: How is the “tailored curriculum” designed to help each cohort succeed?
Aaryn Richard: We tend to look at what industry they’re from first and give them resources accordingly. They each have their own group of mentors and executive director through Red Cedar Ventures to find funding. The 10-week program is very tailored to each cohort and it keeps getting better every single year.
LM: Where does the MSU Foundation source the mentors and business leaders that guide each team?
Aaryn Richard: We’ve been working with entrepreneurs since 2013. Our program director Paul Jaques is the Director of Community and Student Engagement. He has a very deep rolodex of MSU alums who are successful entrepreneurs and pretty much anyone on staff has deep connections into the entrepreneurship community. We’ve also worked very closely with entrepreneurs within Michigan State University’s alumni network.
There are entrepreneurial mentors and a few alums who are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs do their very best and make their startups a success. So we connect each team to their own mentors to be able to call upon, along with connections with our director through Red Cedar Ventures. He begins to think about avenues to help find them funding, not just from Red Cedar Ventures’ portfolio but from other investments.
LM: Can you tell me about one of your favorite successful companies that went through the Conquer Accelerator?
Aaryn Richard: The first one that comes to mind is Golfler. Golfler came in during our first cohort. Their platform provides services to folks who are on the golf course. They can book time, they can get their chips and salsa and beer served to them out on the course.
When they exited Conquer Accelerator, they had been a fairly robust company. But with 10 weeks of mentorship, they really drilled down on what their products or services needed. That lead to an explosion in their company where they made a successful exit as Supreme Golf. That just took them to the very, very next level.”
LM: What are some changes you look forward to for the future of the Conquer Accelerator?
Aaryn Richard: Every year brings its next expectations and challenges, so we’re constantly refining this program and constantly making it better. We are looking this year to refine the curriculum even further.
Richard also explained that he looks forward to eventually being able to service more than one cohort a year, as they are currently only funding one cohort of about four to six teams.
To learn more about Conquer Accelerator contact :
Communications Manager | MSU Foundation