Five years ago, Georgia Tech students John Gattuso, Rachel Ford, and Kevin Miron developed FIXD, a device that tells you when there is something wrong with your car, whether it is a severe issue, and estimates the cost of repairs. The device gets plugged into a car’s diagnostics port and connects to the individual’s phone via Bluetooth. The company has sold over a million units and made over $50 million dollars in revenue since its start. While the idea for this product was their own, the students credit CREATE-X for helping them to develop and execute their vision. CREATE-X is the winner of the 2019 Curriculum Innovation Award.
What is CREATE-X?
Five years ago, Chris Klaus, the Klaus building’s namesake, and a group of professors decided to make CREATE-X, a platform in which Tech students can develop entrepreneurship skills and learn how to start a business while getting class credit for doing so. The program offers classes that teach a student everything they should know about creating a company and provides mentors that guide them in their entrepreneurial journey. While the majority of CREATE-X students are undergraduates at Georgia Tech, the program is open to all students at the university.
Director of CREATE-X, Dr. Raghupathy Sivakumar (referred to as Siva), believes that its important for every college student to have entrepreneurial skills, but understands it’s difficult to find time to develop these skills if someone has classes and other extracurriculars they have to worry about. “We have such a great senior design program at Tech with hundreds of ideas with no platform to actually build upon, which is why we needed a program like this,” he says.
The program tries to encourage diversity with different genders, cultures, majors, and levels of education, and creates a more well-rounded representation of the students and educators in the Georgia Tech community. Around 50% of the startup teams within the program include women and 35% include underrepresented minorities. “When people see CREATE-X, it’s important for them to see people that look like them, to see more women and more cultures represented,” states Dr. Siva. Associate director of CREATE-X, Dr. Craig Forest, added, “It’s also important to us to have diversity in majors so students have mentors they can connect with and relate to.”
Strategies for Teaching and Engagement
CREATE-X has three programmatic stages: Learn, Make, and Launch. Each stage is equipped with courses that teach and mentor students about the entrepreneurial world, how to create a long-lasting business, and help them to execute their ideas. Students can choose to take a course in whichever stage they want. There’s no specific stage that a student is required to complete before moving on to the next.
“What we try to do is meet students at their level,” states Dr. Forest. “If you’re a freshman and think entrepreneurship is cool but don’t really know where to start, we have the startup lab course. If you’re a senior in your final project and want to give entrepreneurship a shot, you can take Capstone design. If you’re a sophomore and have an idea for an invention, we’ll give you $500 and course credit through the [Idea to Prototype] course.”
Because the program works with undergraduate and graduate students, they often have students with various levels of experience. Graduate students tend to have more work experience in their field of interest than undergraduates do, so they typically have a greater amount of real-world knowledge. However, undergraduate students tend to be more open-minded to exploring entrepreneurship in various fields.
Regardless, both groups are fully invested in CREATE-X because they are interested in launching what is referred to as the “deep start-up”: startups that will have long-term impact as opposed to short-term gain. The deep startup is important to a business’s longevity and CREATE-X works hard to guide their students through this process with their deep startup course, which teaches students how to create a long-lasting business that is representative of the Georgia Tech motto every student is encouraged to live by: progress and service.
“We don’t want our students to make something that anyone off the street could’ve made; it should be unique to them and to our school,” comments Dr. Siva.
CREATE-X also invites in CEOs of successful businesses as guest speakers to discuss challenges faced in the entrepreneurial world, which helps students to plan how they will overcome these challenges as they create their own businesses.
The Future of CREATE-X
With any company, there is one imperative question to ask: what is our long-term plan? As a program that helps start companies, CREATE-X directors often ask themselves the same thing.
“We learn every day how to improve our program and what little ways we can do better each year with every student and team,” states Dr. Siva. The program directors are constantly looking for ways to make their program better, with the ultimate goal of becoming the number one school for startups in the country. They believe it will take around seven years to achieve this goal, but already have a solid start with over 115 startups launched that are valued at over $150 million combined.
Another long-term goal of theirs is to create a campus culture that revolves more around student start-ups. Forest explains, “We want to change the culture of the campus so that it’s like everyone knows someone who’s launching a startup and create an environment where it becomes common.”