Pre-accelerator program helps student entrepreneurs prepare for success


Student entrepreneurs have accomplished a lot in just one year.
Student entrepreneurs have accomplished a lot in just one year.

Learn, discover, and create — this is what students do at Virginia Commonwealth University.

As part of VCU’s Pre-Accelerator Program, student entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and with diverse skill sets are combining real-world experience with what they learn in the classroom to launch real, viable business ventures.

With guidance from mentors, our student entrepreneurs are able to put their ideas into action. In the year that the pre-accelerator has been in operation, 16 student teams have garnered more than $1 million in grants and investments. Fourteen have formed companies, 11 are generating revenue, and a total of 29 paid positions have been created.

As a member of VCU’s Pre-Accelerator’s first group of student-entrepreneur’s, Sixto Cancel saw a need and created a solution. Children in foster care were transitioning out of the system with few resources to guide them into their next stage of life — adulthood. An alumnus of the foster care system himself, Cancel worked with the pre-accelerator program to launch the organization Think of Us. His non-profit organization uses Web and mobile technology to assist young adults exiting the foster care system. Unify, an app designed by Think of Us contains interactive videos and coaching tools to help foster care alumni set personal goals essential to living as young adults. Also contained in the app are tools for connecting with advocates and services. Cancel’s entrepreneurial acumen has been recognized by the White House. Now incorporated, Think of Us is staffed by volunteers, freelancers, and part-time employees.

Umar Hasni, a member of the spring 2016 pre-accelerator program, pinpointed a problem — electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from everyday objects as a hazard to pregnant women — and developed a solution. With support from VCU’s Pre-Accelerator and its mentors, Hasni is able to see Tiny Tech’s protective maternity clothing reach fruition. The affordable and protective maternity belt Hasni developed blocks more than 99.9% of electromagnetic radiation. Recently Hasni and fellow project team members won first place in their division at the Venture Creation Competition. Hasni and his team received even more funding to continue on with their creation and develop even more beneficial technology and are in the process of filing for a patent. Currently in testing, Tiny Tech will launch in early 2017.

Frank Macrina’s dedication to building a culture of innovation is beautifully reflected in what our students accomplish during and after their time at VCU. With Nicky Colomb at the helm of VCU’s Pre-Accelerator program, I am confident that student entrepreneurs will continue to make a positive change with their ideas and innovations.

I am proud and in awe of the abilities of our students. Their constant pursuit of knowledge and the quest to discover and create is what makes VCU a major public research university.