Robert DelCampo, the academy’s director, said the idea for the program emerged when he was looking for ways for students to learn about business, but “not in an onerous way.” Students don’t have to commit to all 12 weeks; instead, they are welcome to drop in at any time if interested.
As there is a similar program at the University of Arizona, DelCampo said it was important to make UNM’s version unique.
“The main thing I wanted it to be was short,” he said. “I didn’t want more than 45 minutes somebody lecturing because students get enough of that in class.”
Throughout the semester, a variety of speakers from entrepreneurs to UNM alum will facilitate the discussions. To kick off the program, DelCampo chose Stacy Sacco, owner of Sacco Connections LLC and professor in the Anderson School of Management. Students have flocked to Sacco for guidance, describing him as very helpful with turning their visions into realities, DelCampo said.
Sacco is excited to be sharing his experience in the business world. “We’re taking it to another level with StartUp School,” he said. “It’s basically a toolkit for being an entrepreneur.”
For 16 years, Sacco has taught at the university while helping people start small businesses. His “Shark Tank” class, based off of the television show, is popular with students. He established the NMNetLinks website, also known as the “Albuquerque Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” and used to write a business column for the Albuquerque Tribune. After spending some time in Orange County, California, Sacco came back to the state where he grew up to fulfill his main goal of helping New Mexico get better.
Sacco said the most important thing for students to do is go out and talk out their ideas with people.
“I’m curious to hear from them,” he said. “What kinds of products do they want to launch and what is their motivation?”
The focus of Sacco’s presentation was something he referred to as “Defining Your Value Proposition.” In other words, asking what problems aspiring entrepreneurs want to solve in their communities and the value they can bring to the table.
A variety of ideas were shared, from a creative writing camp to a company specializing in sidewalk repairs. In each case, a Q&A session followed. According to Sacco, the point of the sessions is to lay a foundation for students; most importantly, to decide whether or not they have an idea for a viable product.
Regardless of whether or not they think an idea is viable, DelCampo said that no one should feel reluctant to share.
“If we’re putting the UNM seal of approval on this we need to send the message to students that it’s a safe place to come talk about this stuff.”
Shanya “Echo” Jiang, a postdoctoral fellow, conducts research on Alzheimer’s disease at UNM. Over the course of her career in biotechnology, the idea of starting a company hadn’t arisen until her team took a huge step towards discovering a cure this year.
“After hearing about StartUp School through email, I was interested because our lab is developing a vaccine,” she said. “I was thinking that at one point maybe we could commercialize it.”
Stan Peplinski, a physicist at Kirtland Air Force Research Laboratory, stumbled across the program at the last minute and decided to look into it. Since the laboratory announced an entrepreneurship program of their own over the summer, Peplinski said that StartUp School is just another example of a great opportunity for students and people like himself who need practical advice on becoming a future business-owner.
“I think there is a nation-wide move for having formal courses of entrepreneurship,” he said. “Entrepreneurship will be the new buzzword at universities.”