When Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) senior Gerald Decelian ’10 decided to enroll in the interdisciplinary course, What’s the Big Idea, last fall, he had no idea that it would end up being one of the most useful courses he took at SU.

“This course is much more interactive than any other course I’ve taken,” Decelian said. “It was so good that I wish I could take it again. I am learning how to start my own business. We are taking what we are learning and applying it to today’s needs, not the future’s.”

Decelian was one of approximately 100 students who enrolled in last fall’s offering of What’s the Big Idea that was cross-listed in the College of Arts and Sciences, iSchool, Whitman School of Management, and the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

The fall course is the first step in a four-phase Student Start-Up Accelerator. A 2009 recipient of an SU Chancellor Leadership Grant and Kauffman Enitiative funding, the Syracuse Student Start-Up Accelerator is a collaborative project led by Syracuse University and the Technology Garden. It is directed by iSchool Assistant Professor Michael D’Eredita and SU Entrepreneur in Residence John Liddy.

“What’s the Big Idea is a class that it is grounded in ideals of innovation and forward thinking; while providing students with a realistic view of the business world,” said iSchool senior Colby M. Morgan ’10. “The class also makes students aware of all the different resources there are on campus that could serve as a support system for the development of their ideas. The room was filled students from separate colleges across the university, who, together, held a wealth of knowledge that really worked to create many multifaceted projects.”

The fall course led Decelian and Morgan to enroll in the spring follow-up course, Idea2Startup, where students actually start developing the companies they brainstormed and explored in the fall semester.

“I love business, but I hate working for other people,” he said. “I started to wonder if I could work for myself without any limits, so I took the class to learn how to do so. I am now starting my own company, and I’m going to be successful!”

The Idea2Start-up course enables students to take their ideas to the next level, Morgan said. “You no longer feel as if you’re taking a class,” she said. “Everyone is now working to build out an idea and create a business. The class has taught me so much about the first steps in creating a start-up. We’ve done everything from business modeling to perfecting our pitches. It’s a class where fluid discussion is welcomed and encouraged. Every week, a remarkably creative energy is built, which promotes the growth of each individual start-up.”

Only in its first full cycle, the Student Start-Up Accelerator has already had some successes in helping Syracuse University students launch their own businesses. A few of the companies are drawing regional and national attention as well as some venture capital.

For example, the student start-up, Brand-Yourself.com, is currently a semi-finalist in the $200k New York’s Creative Core Emerging Business Competition and its CEO Pete Kistler, an iSchool senior, was a top five finalist in Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2009 College Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

Ryan Dickerson, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is featured in Inc. Magazine’s annual Cool College Start-Up Contest for his start-up company called Rylaxing, a foam pillow that transforms beds into couches. His company originated in Whitman’s Couri Hatchery in Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship, and he enrolled in the spring, Idea2Startup, course.

Grafighters, an online fight game that was developed by iSchool senior Dave Chenell ’10 and VPA senior Eric Cleckner ’10, won the “People’s Choice Award” and $1,000 during the Tech Garden’s Student Sandbox Demo Day last summer.

As for Decelian, he hopes to move his student start-up, a web-based company called DreamFetcher (dreamfetcher.com), into the Student Sandbox at the Technology Garden this summer.

Morgan is developing a product that she hopes will work to reduce the incidents of date rape all over the United States. The product is a drinking straw that detects the presence of date rape drugs in beverages and alerts users by changing colors. “The courses are giving me many of the tools I need to become a successful entrepreneur,” she said. “A successful entrepreneur has to live and breathe their business and be willing to work to make things happen. I would love to do the Student Sandbox experience this summer.”

The Student Start-Up Accelerator will be setting up a desk on the Quad April 6 from noon to 2:30 p.m., featuring SU’s Entrepreneur in Residence John Liddy. Liddy will award $5 checks to students who pitch good business ideas to him (redeemable at the Emerging Talk conference on April 28, 2010, at the Tech Garden, emergingtalk.com).

What’s the Big Idea is again being offered this fall and will be listed as:

  • IST 427/627,
  • IND 471 (Interdisciplinary Product Development),
  • ECS 500 (section 2),
  • EEE 400/600, and
  • SOL 400.

The course is taught by iSchool Prof. Michael D’Eredita, VPA Prof. Don Carr, Whitman Prof. Marcie Sonneborn, SU Entrepreneur in Residence John Liddy, and Tech Garden Entrepreneur in Residence Sean Branagan. 

For more information or to get details on registration, visit http://accelerate.syr.edu.