Kennesaw State Entrepreneurship Center Funds Student Tech Startups

KENNESAW, Georgia | Sep 12, 2022

Kennesaw State students leverage what they learn from professors at the Robin and Doug Shore Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center and investments from the Mookerji Innovation Fund to create technology and engineering projects, develop software ideas, and start businesses that solve consumer problems.

The Shores, who are longtime supporters of KSU, established the Entrepreneurship Center at the Michael J. Coles College of Business with a major gift in 2016. Since then, the couple and faculty at the center have continued to work to expand its reach.

“We see exciting and innovative ideas from students and alumni, and it empowers them to pursue their passions, become their own bosses, and ultimately become business owners,” said Greg Quinet, Executive Director of the Center. . “What’s exciting is that these ideas aren’t just coming from our business and entrepreneurship students.”

With the help of the Mookerji Innovation Fund, an incubator funded by donations from tech entrepreneurs Sid and Sophie Mookerji to bolster the work of the entrepreneurship center and its faculty, students can acquire capital, work contracts or other start-up business needs. -ups from the ground. The Mookerjis established the fund in 2020 and recently contributed $600,000 to make more grants available for student and alumni projects in future years.

Students and recent graduates can apply for Mookerji Innovation Fund grants for their start-up business or product idea for amounts ranging from $5,000 to $20,000. Until now, businesses started by students and alumni have ranged from cutting-edge technology to consumer product development.

Train while playing

Brannan Vitek grew up in Gainesville, Georgia, known as the “poultry capital of the world.” Meatpacking is the main industry there, but it wasn’t something he was interested in.

Brannan Vitek

At Kennesaw State, Vitek (’20) studied game design and hoped to one day work for a video game development company, never thinking that gaming had a role to play in poultry factories. After taking Quinet’s Entrepreneurial Mind course in 2019, starting a business seemed so attainable that Vitek looked for ways to turn his passion for game design into a business.

Today, Vitek runs Apex Innovations, a company that created a virtual reality game to introduce students at Lanier Technical College in Gainesville to the basics of operating and maintaining ammonia refrigeration systems, the type used in poultry processing plants in the region. Students virtually learn the basics of refrigeration systems through play before moving on to hands-on training with working models.

“The Entrepreneurial Mind course changed my journey from programmer to entrepreneur,” Vitek said. “The course explained the process of starting a business and showed me how I could do it without any debt and how to choose a market.”

The Vitek team originally received a $2,500 grant and has to date received $7,500 in seed funding.

“The Mookerji grant went to software licenses and paychecks. We had purchased our VR headsets and started programming ahead of time, so having the extra cash was a boost to our peace of mind during the seven months of developing the ammonia game,” said Vitek.

In addition to its contract with Lanier Technical College for refrigeration training, Vitek said its team is also developing virtual reality hazardous materials, forklift and heavy machinery training for the college.

Enter a growing market

Sean Feeser, a 2020 KSU graduate, had a similar experience to Vitek in his entrepreneurial journey. Feeser said he expected to land a programming job after school with no plans to run his own business.

Vertical offset

During an entrepreneurship course with Quinet, Feeser met Ben Snowden (’21), another game design student, and together they began working on a virtual reality video game. They recognized they had an opportunity to tap into an emerging market.

“We were already playing with virtual reality while we were in school, so it seemed like a natural fit,” Feeser said. “When looking for VR games, you don’t have as many choices as other types of games and consoles.”

After receiving a grant from the Mookerji Innovation Fund, Feeser and Snowden brought in a team of contractors to polish the core development of their game, Vertical Shift. In the game, players fly through dense cityscapes on perilous missions.

Since its first launch in the summer of 2021, Vertical Shift has grown from 20,000 downloads and an average of around five players at any time of day to 160,000 downloads and around 3,700 daily active users. Feeser says support from KSU’s Entrepreneurship Center and the Mookerji Fund made this possible.

“Mookerji was spectacular supporting us early on,” Feeser said. “With the help of the grant, we were able to take something that started out as an academic project and turn it into a full-fledged professional product.”

Frustration sparked innovation

Brighton Swales, a mechatronics engineering student who plans to graduate in the spring of 2023, was frustrated with the tops available for his Jeep Wrangler. In his opinion, soft tops let in too much outside noise, while hard tops take too long to put on and take off. So he decided to create a hybrid top that he says solves both problems.

Brighton Wales
Brighton Wales

Swales, who enrolled at KSU after eight years in the US Navy, with help from the Shore Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center and the Mookerji Innovation Fund, started a company called Swales Innovation to develop and commercialize his invention.

“I’ve had a bunch of ideas throughout my life, but I was like, ‘I’ll run with this one and see where it goes,'” Swales said.

Swales began developing a prototype Jeep roof that would have a hardtop exoskeleton with the convenience features of a soft top. Even better, the removal from the top will be automated, he said.

Creating this prototype took more than two years and is expected to cost around $100,000, and Swales said he has already invested around $30,000 of his own money in the work. So the news that he would receive $5,000 from the Mookerji Innovation Fund to acquire the intellectual property rights to his prototype is welcome, he said.

“The Mookerji Fund and the Shore Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center are some of the best programs I’ve heard of for college entrepreneurs,” he said. “The feedback and advice I received helped me solve unforeseen problems and gave me sound advice on resources to use. Plus, I can tell how invested advisors are in my success. »

Swales’ prototype is still in development, with the goal of installing it on his own vehicle this fall. Swales said that once he was happy with his prototype, he would look to scale up production.

“Our entrepreneurship center offers students of all majors a place to develop their ideas while receiving expert support from faculty and even funding for student projects,” Quinet said. “The Entrepreneurship Center and KSU have created an environment conducive to the development, funding and growth of high-potential businesses.”

–Thomas Hartwell
Photos of Matt Yung, David Caselli, submitted

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global connections, and entrepreneurial spirit attract students from across the country and around the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated (R2) doctoral research institution, placing it among an elite group of only 6% of US colleges and universities with R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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