Montclair State University’s Ignite Program Helps Student and Community Entrepreneurs Get Moving

Montclair State University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is calling on all potential and fledgling entrepreneurs — whether at the school or in the community — to take part in a program that will spark their entrepreneurial drive and send their businesses along the right trajectory. It’s called “Ignite Entrepreneurs @ MSU,” and interested founders can apply here, or email the program at entrepreneurs@montclair.edu There is still time to apply for this semester

We spoke with Liz Rich, the Feliciano Center’s acting executive director, about how the program came about.  Rich pointed out that entrepreneurship programs should adapt to the times, and she noted that this one had emerged from the pandemic.

“Coming out of the pandemic, we took a look at what we had been doing before the pandemic, which was very event-oriented, with meetups and pitch competitions and things like that. We wanted to figure out what people needed at this moment,” she said.

“Around August 2021, we had a new strategic [planning] director come on board. Her name is Valeria Aloe.  Valeria ran some successful small business startup programs with the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. So, she had a lot of background in that area, and she is an entrepreneur as well as a published author. When Valeria came on, she and I really dug into the data. We talked to hundreds of folks on campus, off campus, faculty, stakeholders, students, community entrepreneurs, just to truly understand what they were needing in the moment.”

The conversations and data both showed that funding was the number-one need of these businesses. Said Rich, “That’s a no-brainer. Everybody always needs funding, especially as things that were being offered from the state were drying up.” Creativity was needed in the funding realm, she added.

People also indicated that they wanted to have a sounding board or find like-minded individuals that they could connect with, or just talk through their businesses, she said. And the students needed a road map showing them how to start a business. “They were getting a lot of their information from TikTok and YouTube and all these different places. And that was a bit of a red flag for me.” said Rich.

Based on all this information, the Feliciano Center developed the Ignite program, which has key pillars that address all of those needs, she said. For example, in response to the expressed desire for people to connect with, the program offers mentoring services. “We’ve curated a robust group of mentors. We have about 15 people now who are ongoing mentors who give one-on-one support to Ignite participants, free of charge.”

The Ignite program’s main feature is its 20-week curriculum of online learning. “We have a proprietary learning management system at Montclair State that has been opened to the community. We are also offering more courses to folks who are adult learners who might want to take one-off courses on things.”

Also, the courses are on demand. Entrepreneurship isn’t a linear thing, Rich noted. It happens at different stages for different businesses.

The Ignite classes are presented via video, with students completing a thought exercise after each class. The students meet once a week via Zoom to discuss what they’ve learned and to talk about their thoughts with the instructor. This is the “accountability” portion of the program, where people show up for themselves and show up for the community, Rich stated.

NJTechWeekly.com asked Rich to describe what entrepreneurs learn in the classes, and we got an answer that was very comprehensive. The program goes from broad concepts to practical learning, and Montclair State has also devised some mini courses that address in detail areas of interest to entrepreneurs, such as crowdfunding. “We are trying to help entrepreneurs get the fundamentals down and help folks who want to develop a business and are stuck at a point in their journey or stuck just getting started.”

The Ignite program starts out with its professors of entrepreneurship and innovation teaching  how to have an entrepreneurial mindset, how to think more like an entrepreneur and how to bring innovation into your business. “We go into customer discovery, how to size the marketplace. We use search engine optimization to do a lot of customer discovery. We do work with the Lean Canvas, learning how to have a one-page business plan, how you can still be flexible. We look at how to think about things as your business is changing.” After these topics, they “get down to brass tacks.” The program discusses branding, aesthetics, how to market the business, social media marketing strategies and finance. “We spend a lot of time on funding and financing options,” Rich stated.

Also, the program covers tax implications, legal ramifications, contracts, 1099 employment, patenting and trademarking; and “doing your taxes, having your cash flow analysis at the ready, so that you understand that cash in is not necessarily cash out.” In addition, the program addresses the need to keep the business tight in terms of your personal spending versus your business spending, and the importance of personal credit, Rich told us.

The Feliciano Center is also providing in-person events for its Ignite participants, including networking sessions and workshops. And it hosts a monthly meetup that’s open to everyone. The most recent one concerned artificial intelligence (AI), with speakers from Google and NVIDIA. Follow Montclair Starts Up on Eventbrite to stay informed about upcoming program events.

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