Hopkins Students Get 3-Day Crash Course in Building a Business
During his first two years at The Johns Hopkins University, Simon Barnett noticed an abundance of raw entrepreneurial talent and innovative ideas in his undergraduate peers. However, too few turned this potential into real businesses.
“Johns Hopkins has a strong entrepreneurship program, but I felt like something was missing,” says Barnett, who co-founded Nebulab Technologies, a cloud-based data management software company, in 2013. “We lacked programming that demystified entrepreneurship.”
Barnett recalled how a three-day workshop he attended in high school spurred his entrepreneurial pursuits, so he decided to bring that same type of program to his peers. Barnett raised nearly $10,000, did marketing and collaborated with Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ Kasim Ahmad to bring 3 Day Startup to campus.
This experiential education program has taught students in 40 different countries the basics of entrepreneurship, idea development and other essential skills for building a sustainable business. The 100 applications that Barnett received from students representing an array of class years and Hopkins schools serve as evidence that the program filled an unmet need.
From April 21 through April 23, the three dozen students accepted to participate in Johns Hopkins’ 3 Day Startup pitched ideas, formed teams and went to work growing a business using the lean startup approach.
“Ideas are a dime a dozen or even a dime for a thousand,” says Jeff Levine, a program coordinator at 3 Day Startup. “While we appreciate ideas, we’re all about action.”
“Our mission is to provide the hands-on aspect of entrepreneurship training. We push them into an uncomfortable zone where they have to take action.”
This uncomfortable zone includes performing one-on-one interviews with potential customers to determine market need and interest for the product or service the team plans to develop. Additionally, a group of mentors brought in throughout the weekend taught the students how to make prototypes and convey ideas to customers. By Sunday afternoon, the teams pitched judges, entrepreneurs and investors.
“I got really good feedback from our judges about how much progress the students made over the weekend,” Barnett says. “It was good to see how flexible and resilient the groups ended up being.”
Though the event is focused more on education rather than churning out businesses, at least one team that participated in 3 Day Startup will pursue launching a startup based on an idea developed at the event. Senior James Shamul and freshman Jamie Chen, both of the Whiting School of Engineering, teamed with Louis DeRidder, a visiting student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, to work to bring BarberFleet to Baltimore in the near future.
Once launched, the mobile barbershop staffed with licensed cosmetologists from a local academy will keep Johns Hopkins students from having to make the inconvenient trek to an off-campus barber shop. Moreover, the startup will have a social component where it provides haircuts to Baltimore’s homeless population as well as access to other resources, including employment opportunities.
“I really appreciate all that Hopkins in general is trying to do for young entrepreneurs,” Shamul says. “There are a lot of ideas that students have, but if there’s no way to do it, the ideas just go away.”
The success and opportunity of this year’s event has inspired Barnett to turn 3 Day Startup into an annual installment. With planning for next year’s event already underway, Barnett says he wants to align 3 Day Startup with all of the other resources Johns Hopkins provides to create a linear path that gives student entrepreneurs the resources they need when they need it.
Barnett’s plan would have 3 Day Startup serve as one of the first student entrepreneurship events each academic year so entrepreneurs can learn the basics and formalize their raw ideas. From there, students would have time to work with academic advisors and FastForward’s student venture coordinator to refine strategy.
This would better prepare teams for the JHU Business Plan competition, and student funding programs such as the Ralph O’Connor or Summer Student Entrepreneurship Grant hopefully increasing both the quality and the quantity of student teams.
“What’s important to me is figuring out how we can demystify the entrepreneurial process by bringing together existing programming and talented students,” Barnett says. “It’s a massive undertaking, but I’m optimistic about the future.”