Perhaps because of being founded for purposes of economic development, an enduring element of the culture of Georgia Tech has a marked affinity for commercial enterprises, including start-up enterprises. Georgia Tech in general, and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in particular, continue to enjoy a very robust percentage of industry sponsored research with attendant technology transfer, and produced an astounding number of start-up enterprises based on results of research. Likewise, many ECE alumni have, in the words used by Jim Carreker in the accompanying interview, felt the need to “scratch the entrepreneurial itch” and start their own companies.
The first significant programmatic effort supporting economic development activities by the state’s research universities was initiated in 1990 by the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA). This program enables the participating universities to recruit and hire outstanding faculty, and actively promotes and supports commercialization of products of university research.
To encourage and promote student entrepreneurship, two ECE professors, Steve McLaughlin and Raghupathy ‘Siva’ Sivakumar, initiated a program called Create-X in 2014. They partnered with others at Georgia Tech, most notably Professor Ray Vito in Mechanical Engineering and Professor and Chair Ravi Bellamkonda in Biomedical Engineering. They connected with a willing sponsor, Tech alumnus Chris Klaus, who was interested in promoting student entrepreneurship. Chris established a $2 million fund to support the operation.
Create-X students enroll in sequential credit bearing courses and work in single or multidisciplinary teams with faculty mentors. They also pursue vertically integrated projects with the differences being that Create-X projects are intended to result in products with commercial potential — the credit bearing courses provide specific instruction on entrepreneurship.
The formal Create-X program consists of three phases: learn, make, and launch. Undergraduate students interested in participating in Create-X enroll in a three-credit hour Startup Lab available to all students, independent of major. The course provides instruction on what is involved in product conception, market analysis, and company formation.
The make phase includes two credit-bearing courses:
- Create-X Capstone: a senior design course where interdisciplinary teams work on their product ideas. It is open to all students who have completed the Startup Lab.
- Ideas to Prototype: this course enables student teams to work outside their class schedules to focus on turning ideas into working products. Teams accepted into the course receive a $500 reimbursement for expenses, and are mentored by a Georgia Tech faculty member.
The launch phase consists of a non-credit program, Startup Luanch, which is a 12 week summer program aimed at enabling student teams accepted into the program to turn concepts into fully functional and viable startup enterprises.
Additionally, Create-X sponsors out-of-class events to aid students who are participating.
- Meet Your Co-founder is a networking event where students can interact with fellow students, discuss project ideas and identify areas of mutual interest.
- Startup Ideas is an event where students can meet with members of the Create-X selection team and learn more about launching projects.
- Legal Buzz is an event where students receive advice about legalities of initiating startups from lawyers who are members of a local legal firm.
Create-X by the Numbers
Faculty members serve as mentors for Create-X teams on a voluntary basis, most usually as a result of being flattered by student requests. Faculty mentors meet with their team weekly to provide guidance through the process. There is an incentive for faculty participation provided by the James and Dee Faculty Fellows Endowment Fund. Each year five faculty mentors are selected as Jim Pope Fellows and receive a fellowship of $15,000 discretionary funds for use during that year.
By any measure, Create-X has been a resounding success. The numbers speak for themselves:
- Since inception over 5,000 students from 38 different majors have participated in Create-X.
- Over 300 startups have resulted, having a total evaluation of over $1.3 billion.
- One startup has received over $100 million in venture capital and has created over 400 jobs.
- Women students have been co-founders of 45% of the startups.
Hear from the founders
Chris Klaus, who provided funds to launch Create-X and who continues to provide seed money for promising startups is particularly proud that George Tech uniquely provides an opportunity for students to intern at their own company without having to graduate or drop out to pursue their business goals.
Professor Sivakumar, an entrepreneur in his own right, who now serves as vice president of commercialization and chief commercialization officer, views Create-X as a startup in itself. Students are the customers and are enabled to create startups on their own providing an experience far more valuable than they would get in a classroom setting.
Steve McLaughlin, who is now provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, views Georgia Tech as a powerful economic development resource for Atlanta and Georgia, and sees Create-X as an increasingly important job creation element.
Klaus, Sivakumar, and McLaughlin all agree that students participating in Create-X gain understanding of how to put ideas into action which will be applicable in career development even outside the entrepreneurial context. ECE can be proud that Create-X is the result of the entrepreneurship of two outstanding ECE faculty members and that many ECE students have availed themselves of the opportunity to participate in the program.
Last revised May 16, 2022