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College Program Prepares Future CEO's - 2003-01-22

One of the goals of most educational institutions is to empower students and teach them to think for themselves in the real world. At the University of Maryland, a new program is actually dedicated to helping undergraduate students start their own companies while they are still students.

Sukatu Shaw of the United States and Amandeep Lamba of India are students at the University of Maryland and they share a room together in a special dormitory. Even though their dormitory is above average for a university, they still eat like typical college students. They decided to room in the same suite so they could work on their medical software business together. "Basically you can run everything from your business right here," says Mr. Shaw.

Business? That's right, they are both in a special entrepreneurial program, the Hinman CEO program, that is a unique concept in American higher education. The University of Maryland is just among a handful of universities that offer dorms and programs customized to budding entrepreneurs.

These students live in a specially designed section of a residence hall on campus. They have exclusive access to their own state of the art conference room, a computer lab and office facilities. Their phone lines are integrated with their cellular phones, so they won't miss important business calls. They also have wireless Internet access.

The Hinman CEO Program is open to any student in any major at the University of Maryland, but only a total of 100 students are admitted at a time. In order to be accepted into the program, students must maintain a high grade point average and write an essay about why they should be allowed to participate.

David Barbe, the program's Faculty Director, says that they try to choose students with many interests and varied backgrounds. "We also watch them pretty carefully and if we see someone's academics not being what they were when they entered the program, then we would talk to them and decide that maybe the program wasn't right for them," he says.

Having many interests and being able to juggle them in school while running a company describes Manny Herman. He also caters to people of varied interests with his online textbook store. He says that running the store for the Hinman program is great experience, but it comes with a price. "I'll tell you. I think that most people in the program get their work done. We may not sleep. That's the truth of the matter. We'll just end up staying up late doing our schoolwork," he says. "I often I find that I think best during the nighttime anyway. I just stay up until three or four AM. Then I'll wake up the next day and there's business stuff to do. It sort of keeps me going looking forward to the next turn of my business." So far, his business has been profitable.

A majority of the students in the Hinman program are studying to be in a technology-related field and looking to round out their knowledge of the business world. Lisa Vora is working towards a degree in computer engineering. When she first entered the Hinman program, she tried to start a business around a high-tech concept she envisioned, but later changed her focus. "I did start off with a technical idea and we met with Brian Hinman. We were talking with him. It required a lot of skill and he said we should scale the project down," she says.

Brian Hinman, who helped found the entrepreneur program, is just one of the business professionals whose advice is available to the students. They can also confer with business leaders locally, or have live videoconferences with those in other cities or countries. If that wasn't enough, the professors on campus are also an excellent resource as well. "As the economy started going down it was getting tougher to find venture capital and whatnot. Given a hint from another professor of mine, he was talking about roll-ups - buying established companies and putting them under one corporation - that's what I'm going towards," says Ms. Vora. "I bought two businesses so far."

Ms. Vora's businesses already generate revenue and she's currently trying to find partners to buy out three more companies. Monetary success aside, Lisa has found that the Hinman program has given her invaluable experience. "I will say it is a good program. If I wasn't in this program, I would be at a loss. It's definitely helped me not only in my school life, but also in my career, and in general by giving me a lot more exposure to the real world."

Students who have had monetary success with the program are not required to give back a percentage of their company's revenue or profits to the university. However, it is hoped that these future entrepreneurs will later donate funds to continue the Hinman CEO program at the University of Maryland.