SMU Announces All-New Business Accelerator to Support Next-Gen Entrepreneurs

Students and recent alumni of Southern Methodist University will have the opportunity to be a part of an "intense and enriching" 6-month program—and a chance to compete for funding.

SMU’s Cox Graduate Entrepreneurship Club has a new Business Accelerator Program. The BAP goal: providing students with mentorship, resources, and capital to grow their startups.

A six-month program will provide SMU student and recent alumni entrepreneurs the growth opportunity of an existing start-up. Described as an “intense and enriching” accelerator, the program offers immersive workshops, mentorship, and access to entrepreneurial and investor networks.

Students will have two opportunities to compete for non-dilutive funding. The BAP program features two competitions: a Semi-Finalist Elevator Pitch competition that will award non-dilutive pre-seed funding up to $10,000 and a Finalist SMU Startup Launch competition that will award more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind donations.

Accelerating ideas and technologies

SMU says the program is designed to accelerate ideas, technologies, products, or existing businesses “into a thriving market by providing startup support,” SMU Program Consultant Valencia Harris told Dallas Innovates.

More importantly, she says, it expands a student entrepreneur’s network to the movers and shakers in the Dallas start-up community.

The BAP replaces the previous SMU Business Plan Competition. The new program lets students from any program grow their startups.  Students who were unable to participate in the business plan competition in 2020 due to COVID-19 can apply.  

The SMU Cox Graduate Entrepreneurship Club followed up with previous winners and participants to solicit feedback on their progress in the Dallas startup community, says Harris, who is president of the club.

Feedback was “unanimously centered around the need for more hands-on experience with industry leaders and exposure to more potential investors,” she says.

An all-new program, inspired by Mayor’s report

The new BAP program was developed when Mayor Eric Johnson’s Task Force on Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s found that the pathway to a strong startup ecosystem is through educating students of all ages about entrepreneurship. A report released in May highlights how Mayor Johnson plans to make Dallas an inclusive hub for entrepreneurship.

“The Dallas Mayor’s Task Force addressed the great need for more startups in the area,” Dr. Simon Mak, Executive Director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Professor of Practice at SMU Cox, said in a statement. 

Mak, who was a member of the Mayor’s task force, says “startups are not small businesses that stay small.” Rather,  they are “scalable and high-growth oriented and can create maximum economic impact.”  

The program will become a key ecosystem partner for student entrepreneurs “who aspire to create startups that truly impact society and change the world,” he says.

How it works

Following acceptance to the Business Accelerator Program, students will attend two required workshops before competing in a preliminary Elevator Pitch Competition on October 22, 2021. Based on the judges’ rankings, students will be placed into either a Tier 1 or Tier 2 semi-finalist category. Tier 1 finalists will receive a small “seed” round of financing to further their businesses.   

All semi-finalists will then be paired with a one-on-one mentor chosen for them based on their mentor’s experience and area of expertise. The mentors will regularly meet with semi-finalists and provide coaching and feedback in addition to attendance of workshops and events to enhance their skills and prepare them for the next round of competition. 

The program ends in March 2022 with a Startup Launch Competition where students will have the opportunity to compete for a grand prize of Series A funding. Students will present their business plans in front of a live audience and a panel of expert judges at the Crum Auditorium.  

Judging will cover a variety of categories with an emphasis placed on innovation and scalability if investment opportunity. Winners will be announced at an exclusive investors’ dinner.  

Applications to join the Business Accelerator Program are now open. The deadline to apply is September 12, 2021, at 11:59 PM CST. Apply here. 

A student-led program

The BAP is “entirely student-led and student-driven,” including fundraising for the prize money for the competition winners, SMU says.

The Cox Graduate Entrepreneurship Club, a student-led organization founded in 2000, has a big fundraising goal this to help provide the “most impactful and sustainable program possible,” according to a news release.

The efforts are part of the club’s mission to foster innovation within the SMU community.

Quincy Preston contributed to this report.

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