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Startup Academy Celebrates its First Graduating Class

Twelve Lehigh students immersed in Silicon Valley honed their entrepreneurial skill sets and mindsets as part of Startup Academy, a new collaboration between the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter and the College of Business and Economics. Startup Academy celebrated its first graduating class at a ceremony Thursday at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco.

For 10 weeks over the summer, the students gained practical experience by interning with one of six early to mid-stage startups in the San Francisco Bay area:

Krome Photos, which allows for photos to be edited at any time and place
Wexus Technologies, which helps farms save money, energy and water through its technology
Topia, which enables services to manage global talent
StudyBlue, which built a learning app that creates digital flashcards and quizzes
Buzzboard, which leverages data science to help marketers and sellers at small and medium businesses understand when customers want to engage
Homebase, which makes employee scheduling, timesheets, time clock and hiring easier with software.

The students also enhanced their learning at the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, where they took a course taught by Silicon Valley tech executive Tom Gillis ’15P ’17P ’19P and Lehigh Professor of Practice in Management Joshua Ehrig. Mentors provided additional guidance and coaching.

“The students pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones and thrived in this vibrant, unique innovation ecosystem, as they experienced the messy, exciting realities of a startup,” said Lehigh President John D. Simon at the ceremony. “They are graduating today with a deeper understanding of their own goals as they plan for meaningful professional lives.”

Startup Academy bridged the academic and the professional, with Lehigh students being exposed to startups’ inner workings. The students worked in pairs alongside the company founders on specific projects, including market research, data analysis and global market expansion strategies, said Samantha Dewalt, managing director of the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter.

“We had some incredible stories come out of this summer,” she said. StudyBlue was acquired by Chegg for $20.8 million, and Krome Photos celebrated a successful $2.3 million seed-funding round. “It was pretty exciting for the students to experience these critical milestones in a startup’s journey.”

Dewalt said three students will continue working with their startups when they return to campus for the fall 2018 semester.

Georgette Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business and Economics, said, “The goal of this program was to create a pathway for our business students to expand their horizons to the West Coast startup environment. We are thrilled with the life-changing experience and career opportunities afforded by the Startup Academy.”

The Lehigh@NasdaqCenter, a partnership between the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center and Lehigh University, launched in January 2017 with the mission of educating, connecting and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Since then, Lehigh@NasdaqCenter has served more than 400 students and engaged more than 250 alumni through educational programs, mentorship and events.

“The partnership with Lehigh University is a unique public/private partnership which has catalyzed programs like Startup Academy where we’re co-designing immersive learning experiences to support talent development for students, founders and their growing organizations,” said Bruce Aust, vice chairman of Nasdaq and president of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.

In his remarks Thursday, Simon said, “The Nasdaq Center and Lehigh believe entrepreneurship is best taught by engaging in creative problem-solving that addresses genuine challenges faced by real-world businesses. And that’s exactly what happened here this summer.”

Nicola Corzine, executive director of Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, thanked both the students and the startups for their participation.

“This summer, we saw six incredible companies welcome new talent, student talent,” Corzine said. “For many of these companies, the Lehigh students were the first intern talent integrated into their growing companies. And for most, without this program and the support of Lehigh University, a summer project-based internship would not have been possible.”

In turn, she told the founders, “What you have offered these students is the opportunity to see the real working innards of startups as they’re growing—the velocity of quick pivots, momentum gained from early wins, putting learnings into quick action and at times survival. This experience is not something that shiny media headlines or large-scale organizations are able to teach.”

Corzine and Simon also thanked Dean Phillips, without whom, Corzine said, “this program could never have been dreamed up.”
 
With the success of the pilot program, the Lehigh@NasdaqCenter will look to share the experience with students across Lehigh’s four colleges.

Said Simon: “This network of startup and student talent, working together, is the fuel that drives the problem-solvers, change-makers and leaders who are making our world a better place.”
 

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Students gained practical experience by interning with one of six early to mid-stage startups in the San Francisco Bay area. Photo: Sarah Gerber

Dean Georgette Phillips, at left, and Lehigh President John D. Simon, at right, with the first graduating class of Startup Academy.

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