Students with a creative business idea have the opportunity to bring their vision to life through NKU’s innovative INKUBATOR program.
The INKUBATOR, housed in the Haile/US Bank College of Business’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), debuted in 2012 to help give students the tools, guidance, and funding to create companies from the ground up.
Here’s how it works: Students and alumni who are interested in building a viable business model can apply to the program, which generally accepts six ideas per class. Once accepted, students have the chance to develop great connections, learn interpersonal skills, and market themselves and their business —the essential skills of being an entrepreneur.
But the success of the program goes far beyond those 12 weeks; after more than three years since the program launched, more than half of the projects that went through the program now operate as businesses. In addition, they’ve raised nearly $1.5 million in outside funding, says Zac Strobl, INKUBATOR co-founder and NKU alumnus.
The program is nationally recognized, ranking in the top five among university business accelerators in North America by UBI Global from nearly 400 incubators in more than 70 countries.
INKUBATOR draws applications and participants from all of NKU’s colleges. The only prerequisite? That you’re passionate about your idea and can foster creative solutions to real challenges. Teams have specialized milestones and goals that, if reached, can earn them a grant up to $5,000 from the Haile/US Bank College of Business.
Mentorship is one of the biggest draws to the program, and many INKUBATOR graduates come back to guide students who are at the beginning stages of becoming an entrepreneur.
“The success of the INKUBATOR is a true testament to the ideas, the students and alumni, and the help we've had from mentors and the leadership from NKU,” Strobl says. “They really made it successful.”
The INKUBATOR boasts an impressive 91 percent graduation rate. Two recent graduates, Garrett Frey and Gary Darna, found success in starting their own companies through the program.
Garrett Frey, a senior entrepreneurship student at NKU, co-founded Event Spider through the help of INKUBATOR.
Event Spider is a platform for student organizations and academic departments to post their events on a mobile platform that utilizes an algorithm that suggests events to students based on their likes and interests.
Frey credits his business success to the mentorship he received through INKUBATOR.
“The big part of the INKUBATOR program is that they make you validate your idea,” Frey says. “Being able to talk with those people and build that network was huge.”
Frey also found guidance from another INKUBATOR alumnus who was working on mobile development for his own product: Gary Darna, co-founder of CompleteSet.
Darna started with nothing but an idea when he was accepted into the program. He didn’t have a website, funding or team, but he was able to find a co-founder that was just as passionate as he was.
Prior to INKUBATOR, Darna had previously co-founded two companies. He had enough experience to know what to expect from launching a startup business.
But INKUBATOR gave him a new perspective to starting a business.
“The INKUBATOR exposed me to entrepreneurial methodologies and tools I knew very little about in hindsight,” Darna says. “It taught me to approach entrepreneurship in a scientific way through tools like the business model canvas that I rely on to this day.”