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K-State’s Launch A Business program teaches valuable lessons to Kansas-based entrepreneurs

By Joe Atmonavage

Turning a business idea into a viable company is no easy task, but a K-State program devoted to helping start-ups is trying to do just that.

The K-State Launch a Business, or LAB, finished its second session this summer, providing resources and help to Kansas-based entrepreneurs in the early stages of their endeavors.

This year, 13 companies participated in the five-week program where they worked with K-State faculty, students and alumni on the various challenges a start-up possesses.

Chad Jackson, the entrepreneur director at K-State, said venture accelerator programs like LAB are common, but being associated with a university is unusual.

“LAB is one of those programs that really relies on the support of our alumni, faculty and students,” he said. “We have had tremendous support, and that is what really makes the program work.”

“Part of our mission at K-State, as a land grant university, is to extend the resources that we have on campus to those throughout the state of Kansas,” he added.

Throughout the five weeks, the entrepreneurs went through a faculty workshop every morning, had a group of MBA and undergrad students for consulting, researching and helping with furthering their business, and they were given the opportunity to pick the brains of various K-State alumni mentors, Jackson said.

Jeanette Knittel of Alovru Clothing, a women’s clothing line that makes clothes in what she described as a comfortable style that provides balance for the challenges of hormonal fluctuations that cause hot flashes and night sweats, said her student group helped her immensely.

“One of the big values of me was the K-State student team I got,” she said. “I had three students — two MBAs and one undergrad. They produced a really comprehensive marketing plan for me because that is where I struggle. That’s invaluable.”

aThe students who help with the groups do so as apart of an entrepreneurship course about engaging in a consulting project.

Mark Nichols, a K-State senior in business management and entrepreneurship, said the experience was something students can’t get in a classroom.

“We got to get a look inside what start-ups have to deal with on a daily basis and also get different perspectives on what it means to face those challenges and how to get around them,” Nichols said. “It has been more of a real-life teaching experience than a classroom setting, which has been really beneficial.”

For Rodney Zimmerman of F3 Enterprises, an organic aquaponic vegetable and fishing growing system, said he was jumping into the business world blind, but the program opened his eyes to a lot of things he never considered.

“It was incredibly valuable,” he said. “They made you think of things I hadn’t thought of yet.”

At the end of the program, organizers gave $90,000 worth of cash and in-kind prizes. Two companies were picked by mentors and were awarded $5,000 cash and the two grand prizewinners won $10,000.

LAB partnered with K-State Bank, which provided the majority of the funding.

Charles Coffey of Vigilias Telemedicine, a company devoted to improving medical care in rural communities through telemedicine, was one of the grand prize winners and said the money winnings will not only help expand his company, but also better the community.

“Ultimately, the goal is creating jobs and businesses in Kansas,” Jackson said. “That is the reason we do this.”

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