Students at Syracuse University are eager to start exploring their business ideas, and the Orange Tree Fund (OTF) gives them a leg up to start a business before they even leave SU.

“College is the perfect time to start a business,” says Bruce Kingma, associate provost for entrepreneurship and innovation at SU. “If the venture is successful, like Facebook, the market potential is limitless. If the venture fails, the experience is incredibly valuable and the worst that happens is that the students graduate with a college degree and the lessons learned help make the second or third venture a success.”

“The OTF awards provide the small push that many startups need to get themselves off the ground,” says Taylor Louie, a retail management and marketing major at the Whitman School of Management, and co-founder of SkillAddiction, an online skill gaming web site. “As a more established business, SkillAddiction was able to utilize the funds to grow our existing model.”

The OTF was established in 2009 as part of the Syracuse Student Start-Up Accelerator to provide seed funding to student ventures at SU. Funding is awarded to student companies to cover startup expenses, which can include salaries of company owners and employees, space rental, marketing, legal, web site and proof-of-concept development. Student companies may be awarded $5,000-$10,000. Winning companies will be required to meet with the Entrepreneur in Residence to outline deliverables and develop an implementation plan.

To apply for an OTF award, student companies must upload a profile onto the Student Start-Up Accelerator web site and be prepared to pitch to a panel of investors at Emerging Talk 2011, an event that pulled together more than 130 student entrepreneurs from across Central New York last spring. Emerging Talk 2011 will take place March 31 to April 2. The deadline to upload a profile is March 20, 2011; email Andrew Farah at to receive a username, password and guidelines for uploading a profile onto the Accelerator web site. A list of past OTF recipients can be found under “2010 Ventures” on the Accelerator web site.

“Knowing that SU put money on the line because it believes in me and my team is a pretty astonishing concept,” says Farah, an information management graduate student at the iSchool and partner in Capesquared, a web services company. “I think, in the end, I’m most surprised by the completeness of the support offered. It isn’t just money or mentorship or space or time; it’s all of that balled into one invaluable experience.”

The OTF is supported by alumni, donors, SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor and the Kauffman Foundation via Enitiative, a collaborative partnership that provides contacts, resources and funding support for entrepreneurial projects, while uniting faculty and students of Central New York academic institutions and members of the community.