Braden Croy wears a number of hats. As the Associate Entrepreneur in Residence at the Student Sandbox in the Tech Garden, he works on marketing, outreach, curriculum development, and partnerships among other tasks. As someone who has run his own business, Croy has the skills and business acumen to help up-and-coming student startups grow and expand their companies.
“I am very much seen as a peer as many of these students so it gives me the ability to discuss with them the ins and outs of being a student entrepreneur,” says Croy who also works with John Liddy, the Director of the Student Sandbox.
Despite Croy being a familiar face to students, he has only been at the Sandbox for about a year and a half. During the spring of 2013, Croy went through the Sandbox as a student founder. Previously, he had been the President of the entrepreneur club at Virginia Tech and had worked on various companies since his sophomore year.
“I enjoyed the experience and I actually ended up folding the company that I was working on because my cofounder and I were 600 miles apart, he was down at Virginia Tech and we were in different phases in our lives,” says Croy.
While Croy decided to no longer pursue his company, Liddy offered him a Graduate Assistant position at the Sandbox, which quickly turned into a leadership role.
“That summer I worked for the sandbox, I was hired for 20 hours a week, but it was closer to putting 40 or 50 because I enjoyed what I was doing,” says Croy whose role in the Sandbox has also led to positions at the iSchool and the StartFast Venture Accelerator.
The Sandbox Model
Whether it’s at Stanford, MIT, the University of Arizona or Miami, entrepreneurship is taught through a hands-on learning. However, Croy and Liddy are taking another approach, which is to help students understand their core values and motivation for wanting to start a business.
Through examining similar points mentioned in the popular Ted Talks video “Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” Croy and Liddy help students understand the why, how and what of starting their own company.
“In most entrepreneurial programs, most students focus on the what. What product are your building? what service are you offering?,” says Croy. “At the sandbox we take a step back from the very beginning and we ask these students why are you doing this? Why do you want to build this app? Why do you want to create this product? From that we can really get an understanding to if these students going to succeed.”
The Sandbox isn’t your typical college course — there are no grades, no papers, and no formal tests. While Croy and Liddy can teach certain business skills, students still have to be willing to put in the work.
“We can teach you all of the aspects of motivation from investor due diligence to business modeling to customer acquisition to sales and marketing,” says Croy. “But we can’t teach you motivation and if you’re not intrinsicly motivated to want to succeed, your probably going to fail.”
The Future of the Sandbox
The Sandbox also is trying to help other universities and colleges create a similar entrepreneurial environment we see at Syracuse.
“Syracuse really has carved out this beautiful niche of having a cross campus entrepreneurial culture,” says Croy. “You look at Newhouse, Whitman, VPA, iSchool, engineering and all of them at least have one course or multiple courses.”
Croy also says the Sandbox has the potential to become an international hub for student startups. This past summer, they welcomed five computer engineering students from Thailand who mad up the “dev box.”
Not only did these young foreign developers help teams in the Sandbox, but they also had the opportunity to learn more about how businesses are run in the U.S.
However, Croy says this won’t be the last time you’ll see the Sandbox on the global stage.
“We have some major expansion plans and will be looking to continue our success in Syracuse and elsewhere,” says Croy. “Some of our favorite teams from this summer include BikeRules, Contact, MeowSense, Prey, 196 Sense and Wynd. Every entrepreneur has a story and we feel that it’s our job to help them define a plot and create a working storyline for their businesses.”