WKU’s Accelerator programs offer students support for entrepreneurial aspirations and local employment opportunities

For students with business ideas across the country, there is one common barrier that can stop even the most brilliant ideas from coming to life: knowing where to begin. At WKU’s Center for Research and Development (CRD), the Student Business Accelerator program is in many ways a “one-stop shop” capable of breaking through this barrier and dozens of others that students might face when considering entrepreneurship.

The CRD’s director, Jeff Hook, has overseen both the Student Accelerator and the Small Business Accelerator programs since their inception. The Business Accelerator program offers similar support to local businesses looking to grow, while fostering invaluable relationships between students and these local employers that often lead to internships and job offers post-graduation.

What Jeff wanted to offer students and local businesses through the Accelerator programs was access to an unprecedented network of resources that could provide support from business idea to implementation. Whether it’s access to marketing expertise, patent work and business development consulting, the Accelerator program has the resources to support early-stage, knowledge-based firms as well as students having entrepreneurial ambitions.

What do students need in order to gain access to the world-class resources offered by the Student Accelerator program? To make the program as accessible as possible, Jeff stipulated that only two things are required to enter: an interest in entrepreneurship, and a one-on-one meeting with him to explore these interests.

The WKU Center For Research and Development, home of the Student Business Accelerator and Small Business Accelerator.

Bringing entrepreneurial support to Kentucky

The need for an ecosystem of support for local businesses in Kentucky became apparent in the early 2000s. Often, individuals with innovative ideas would seek support in starting businesses in the Kentucky region, and would eventually require more resources to keep growing than were available in the region.

“The Accelerator program was truly a grassroots effort to change the culture around entrepreneurship in Kentucky,” Jeff Hook says. “Our ultimate goal was to create opportunities and jobs in the region by supporting people in starting their own companies here, and by providing the necessary resources for them to stay here and continue to create local jobs once they become successful.”

The array of resources available through the Small Business Accelerator is unparalleled in the region. The Accelerator program allows local businesses to leverage the vast resources available at the CRD and beyond, including access to researchers, IT expertise, light manufacturing space and even high-end office space with conference rooms. What is most unique about this collection of resources, though, is how it fosters relationships between WKU, current students, and a world of other key stakeholders that are often vital in supporting entrepreneurial growth.

“The Accelerator program brings together city, county and state government officials, entrepreneurs from different fields, economic development professionals and potential investors to truly fuel opportunity and economic growth in the region,” Jeff says. “Thus, students in the Student Accelerator program have access to a hub of resources that generate enormous opportunity for their personal and career growth.”

WKU’s Center for Research and Development acts as a hub offering access to an invaluable set of resources for students and small businesses, including marketing expertise, patent work, business development consulting and even high-end office space and conference rooms.

Building bridges between students, mentors and potential employers

The relationship between the Small Business Accelerator and the Student Accelerator is vital in benefitting both students and local companies. The intellectual capital, relationships and resources offered by the Small Business Accelerator bring early-stage firms to WKU. Simultaneously, these resources and mentorship opportunities available through the Student Accelerator can foster relationships between students and firms that lead to internship and employment opportunities, or even allow students to establish their own start-ups.

The success of such relationship-building is apparent in many local companies that got their start in the Accelerator. Raven Eye, a network security company, began in the accelerator and now employs over 20 WKU graduates. Electronic Warfare Associates came to the Accelerator program seeking a partnership with the applied physics research lab at CRD, and has since hired several WKU students–some of whom have gone on to found their own companies. While performing research in the Advanced Materials Institute at CRD, Ryan St. Clair (a current Senior at WKU) met an employer who gave him a full-time job opportunity post-graduation: Blu Pharmaceuticals, a company that also had its foundations in the Accelerator program. Read more about Ryan’s story here.

What is clear is that the Accelerator programs bring a world of resources, relationships and hands-on opportunities to WKU’s campus. For students who have early interests in starting their own companies, the Student Accelerator program can offer invaluable access to mentorship and resources that can support launching an idea into reality. But even for students who aren’t necessarily looking to scale an idea, the ecosystem created by the CRD and the Accelerator programs provides hands-on benefits and access to opportunity that can transform career paths for any student who gets involved.

To learn more about the Student Business Accelerator program, please visit https://www.wku.edu/accelerator/student.php. For more information on the Small Business Accelerator program, please visit https://www.wku.edu/accelerator/ or contact Jeff Hook at william.hook@wku.edu or (270)-991-4944.