UConn School of Engineering Launches Entrepreneurship Hub

'Entrepreneurship isn’t just about incorporating the company and developing strategy. There’s so much personal growth involved'

The logo of the new School of Engineering Entrepreneurial Hub.

Starting a company can be daunting. Aspiring entrepreneurs can now find plenty of help at the School of Engineering’s Entrepreneurship Hub (eHub), which pulls together many different resources to support collaborations and partnerships in the UConn Tech community.

The eHub is primarily dedicated to supporting technology and innovation. The hub offers courses, programs, and activities to facilitate the process of technology commercialization, from the early stages of ideation and conceptualization to licensing and fully launching and scaling businesses for growth. All members of the UConn community who have a technology-based idea, whether students, faculty, staff, or postdocs, are welcome to use the eHub’s resources.

“My goal is to build this as an open, inclusive, and welcoming space for anyone to join. Everyone is welcome. No matter what stage you’re in,” says eHub Director Leila Daneshmandi. Daneshmandi is an assistant professor-in-residence in innovation and entrepreneurship at the School of Engineering and the cofounder and chief operating officer of Encapsulate, a health tech startup in cancer precision diagnostics that she co-founded during her time as a Ph.D. student at UConn. “I didn’t know what entrepreneurship was at the time. I didn’t know who an entrepreneur was. I took a course in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship out of curiosity and that’s where my journey started,” Daneshmandi says.

Niko Franceschi-Hofmann ’19 is now an engineering master’s student in global entrepreneurship at UConn, but started his company, Aqualumos, in 2019 as an undergraduate student. Aqualumos develops technology to remove toxic perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS or forever chemicals, from the water supply.

“It’s wild to think that our whole journey as a company began as a senior design project, where we proposed a largely theoretical solution,” Franceschi-Hofmann says. “We’ve taken that early work to a point of near-commercial readiness and are currently getting good traction for our first $1 million pre-seed raise. We would not be anywhere near where we are today without some of the amazing programs that UConn has to offer including the Third Bridge Grant and the master’s in engineering in global entrepreneurship program. I can only encourage people to use the eHub’s resources. I think it’s a great idea and wish it was around when we were in our earliest days starting the company.”

The eHub offers an array of courses to get a glimpse into entrepreneurship. The easiest way to start is to take the eHub’s one credit course, Entrepreneurial Skills, which is offered to all graduate students and that offers an overview of customer-centric product development, decision making, big picture thinking, and other skills not emphasized in traditional science and engineering education. The eHub also offers three credit courses such as Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship I and II, and Innovation Entrepreneurship, that provide experiential learning opportunities and delve deeper into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and start a business.

“Entrepreneurship isn’t just about incorporating the company and developing strategy. There’s so much personal growth involved. Being bold and creative, going out there, making those phone calls and talking to people you don’t know, are just as much a part of growing a business as coming up with the original innovative idea and developing strategy,” says Daneshmandi. The eHub’s courses aim to help aspiring entrepreneurs expand their skills, knowledge, and mindset to grasp all the different aspects required to be an entrepreneur.

The eHub fosters a community of mentors and advisors who volunteer their time to counsel and support entrepreneurs. These mentors are entrepreneurs and business and industry executives who offer advice on technical, administrative, legal, product, and design aspects of starting a business.  They can also provide invaluable connections within their networks to professionals who can further help you commercialize your technology.

Additionally, the eHub’s Cofounder Matching program provides a path to help aspiring entrepreneurs find their future co-founders within the UConn community. You can submit a form detailing your skills and startup area of preference, and the program will then link you with potential partners.

And if you already have a viable technology and team, but need the funding to take it from prototype to commercial readiness, the eHub can help you find grants and prepare you for taking on investment.

The eHub maintains a comprehensive list of technology startups found by UConn faculty, alumni, and current students. Aspiring entrepreneurs can take inspiration from these startups that encompass a range of technology sectors including health tech, green tech, software, educational tech, and advanced materials.

A wide gamut of programs is also made available to budding entrepreneurs that the eHub offers in collaboration with its partners across UConn. Innovators can not only build prototypes and formulate go-to-market strategies, but also find resources to fund their ventures and support business development. Opportunities to network with like-minded peers through these programs are ample.

With the eHub, UConn innovators and technology entrepreneurs have a home they can go to for any support they need in launching their entrepreneurial journey.