The Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community (ERLC) was thrilled to welcome back its ninth cohort this past August, when 64 freshmen interested in exploring entrepreneurship on campus moved onto the second floor of Tower A in Sellery Hall. Since its founding, this self-selected group of predominantly freshman has had the opportunity--via a unique partnership forged by University Housing, the Madison Undergraduate Initiative, and the Wisconsin School of Business--to engage in programs dedicated to fostering their interest in startup culture. From engaging in late night brainstorming sessions in the community den, to taking part in monthly dinners with VIPs from Madison-area businesses, to enrollment in the ERLC-exclusive seminar on the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, these students are able to hit the UW-Madison campus running when it comes to entrepreneurial action. The residents of this year’s Learning Community hail from eleven different states, represent four different countries, and are interested in pursuing a wide range of intellectual interests, from business, to engineering, to retail, to numerous liberal arts majors. They are united though in their confidence that this early exposure to UW’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, as well the deepening of friendships and connections they make on the floor, will help them put their big ideas into motion.
This year’s class has already met some of the biggest names in Badger entrepreneurship when they volunteered to assist with the Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event. They will also be taking part in the first-ever Sellery Hall Pop Up Shop that will showcase the sartorial projects of past ERLC Dream Big grant award winners Matt and Joey Schlidt and Olivia Schreiber.
Hopefully many will also choose to participate in one of the ERLC’s signature programs—the 100-Hour Challenge. An “entry-level” UW-Madison entrepreneurial contest that is popular with undergraduates from all disciplines and backgrounds, the event challenges teams of students to use donated materials from campus’ Surplus with a Purpose (SWAP) to come up with a new product idea in 100 hours or less (essentially over a long weekend). The teams then make a short video pitch of their big idea for the chance to win prize money.
The Challenge has remained extremely popular over the years due to its low barrier to entry--no business plans are required and no real technical experience is necessary. And its quirky nature makes it ideal for those just dipping their toes into entrepreneurship; the students are, after all, being asked to make a cool prototype out of a pile of junk.
Prizes are awarded in three categories, “Most Potential Revenue Value,” “Most Potential Social Value,” and “Most Creative.” Last year first-year students took two out of the three prizes demonstrating that freshman Badgers have what it takes to Dream Big.
The ERLC is always looking for ways to connect its current residents with alumni in the startup community. If you are interested in becoming more involved with the ERLC, feel free to contact Faculty Director John Surdyk at firstname.lastname@example.org or Program Coordinator Sari Judge at email@example.com.