Notre Dame Students at Innovation Park at Notre Dame
In an effort to keep more University of Notre Dame student entrepreneurs in the South Bend-Elkhart region, the Judd Leighton Foundation announced today that it is making a pool of $125,000 available for Notre Dame student entrepreneurs who choose to stay in the South Bend area. For every dollar the Idea Center at Notre Dame either invests in or gives to a South Bend-Elkhart-based student venture, the Foundation will match it until its $125,000 is depleted.
“We are delighted to participate with the Idea Center in this important initiative,” said Jim Keenan, president of the Judd Leighton Foundation. “Innovation is at the heart of the growth of any thriving community. In order for our region to succeed we need to continue to work at fostering an attractive entrepreneurial environment. Our hope is that through these efforts we can retain more of these exciting new ideas and this wonderful young talent in the South Bend area.”
The Judd Leighton Foundation’s donation is also meant to keep more student entrepreneurs as entrepreneurs by increasing the amount of money their companies receive as part of their first round of funding, which is traditionally the most difficult to raise and often the smallest.
“A startup’s first round of funding, often referred to as the ‘friends and family round,’ is usually small,” said David Murphy, the assistant provost and executive director for student entrepreneurship and the ESTEEM Graduate Program at Notre Dame. “The amount a student entrepreneur raises can sometimes be insufficient for them to want to work full-time on their venture, especially when they compare it to a range of internship and job opportunities. Although many of our past student founders have chosen to work full-time on their ventures, the matching funds the Judd Leighton Foundation is providing our young founders will greatly increase what they would normally raise in their first round.”
“This funding from the Leighton Foundation will financially make it easier for them to want to work on their venture full-time in South Bend,” added John Henry, director of student startups at the Idea Center. “It will also instill them with confidence in their ability to raise their next round.”
For Notre Dame students to receive both the Foundation’s matching dollars and the original amount from the Idea Center, they must first prove the efficacy of their business model. The process starts when the student submits their business idea to the Idea Center. They then work with staff and other students to ensure their business idea covers an unmet need and provides a solution to it. After that, they must build an early product or service and put together a team. The team is then encouraged to raise money by pitching for funds from the Idea Center, investors and friends and family. The amount the Idea Center either gives or invests in the student venture will be matched by the Foundation insofar as the company is headquartered in the South Bend area.
Notre Dame student entrepreneurs are already looking forward to what the additional funding the Judd Leighton Foundation is providing can help them do. "This extra funding from the Leighton Foundation would allow my company to implement certain developments and features that, in turn, would allow us to target more ambitious milestones that would better prepare us for future investment rounds," said Edozie Ezeanloe (ND ‘22), founder and CEO of NXSTEP.
Anthony Esplin (ESTEEM ‘21), founder of Sleep Easy, agrees: “The first money into the new business is the most risky. If I can show that I already have someone backing me, it makes it easier for other people to decide to help fund my company.”
Regardless of whether a student venture is provided money by the Idea Center and the Judd Leighton Foundation or not, the Idea Center will always be able to provide any Notre Dame student interested in entrepreneurship support whether that be through education in innovation and entrepreneurship, access to the Center’s Innovation Lab, business competitions and meaningful mentorships.
For more information about student entrepreneurship at the Idea Center, visit https://ideacenter.nd.edu/se/.