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Hit the Floor

Entrepreneurship floors in universities let students live their businesses 24/7.

There may have been a drama floor or a cinema floor at your dorm--but was there an entrepreneurial floor where students with their sights set on starting businesses could live with other like-minded people? Today, you'll find these pioneering programs at universities all over the country. At Babson College's E-Tower in Babson Park, Massachusetts, for example, undergraduates learn entrepreneurship by day and live with other entrepreneurial students by night.

The benefits of living and working entrepreneurship are many, says Robert M. Kearns, 22, a Babson student graduating this month. He has spent four years living at the E-Tower, a floor with 21 residents who are all starting businesses or developing business plans. Says Kearns, "At any point, at 2 in the morning, if I have a problem there's someone there who's had that experience and is going to know the answer."

In addition, weekly meetings where students discuss entrepreneurship with visiting speakers, their peers or the community at large provide even more value. Enhancing the learning curve of these programs is the autonomy that many of the students have. At the E-Tower, students are largely able to decide how they want the program to run as well as what to include, says Fred Grant, director of the Office of Campus Life at Babson. It was, in fact, students who created an office/library out of a room by setting up a computer, fax machine, copier and myriad resource materials.

Started in 2001, the E-Tower has been home to many businesses, including Kearns' own Mary-Square Garden Concepts, a manufacturer and retailer of garden accessories. Run partly from his room in the E-Tower and partly from his hometown, Greenville, Texas, Kearns notes that it's the friendly competition and deep friendships, combined with entrepreneurial education, that make the E-Tower concept so unique. "I've made contacts and business partners and [have] been able to get funding by being in the E-Tower," says Kearns. "These are opportunities I never would've gotten without [being here]."

Being there is getting easier, as more residential programs pop up nationwide. For more college residential entrepreneurship programs, check out the University of Maryland's Hinman Campus Entrepreneurship Opportunities Program in College Park, as well as Oregon State University's Weatherford Hall in Corvallis.

Since 2000, students entering their sophomore year at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, can apply to the Venture@Moorehouse program to gain entrepreneurial experience while living in the dorm. To date, business ideas have ranged from a college-job recruiting website to a service that helps startups navigate federal bidding contracts and facilitates networking between vendors, contractors and buyers. Marc Compeau, director of entrepreneurial programs at Clarkson, says 24 students share living, learning and working space and come up with a business idea that they operate out of the space together. Says Compeau, "It's one of the most valuable experiences they [have here]."

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This article was originally published in the May 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Hit the Floor.

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