Freshman seminar sparks start-up company
October 3, 2007
Thinking like an entrepreneur begins early for students at Wake Forest University, where last year six freshmen got so excited about their first-year seminar in biophysics they started a company.
Armed with a three-phase business plan, they are raising start-up funds through grants and private investments for their company, BioBotz, which aims to produce an educational interactive online game, an animated television series and ancillary stuffed toys and action figures starring characters based on the amino acid chains that operate like tiny robots inside human cells.
"They’re trying to create the Pokemon of molecular biology,” explains Jed Macosko, an assistant professor of physics at Wake Forest who taught their first-year seminar, “Harnessing Life’s Molecular Machines: From AIDS Tests to Hydrogen Cars,” a course that encourages students to look at the molecular level of cells for new product and process ideas that can be developed into entrepreneurial ventures.
None of the six students knew each other prior to attending the class, but after Macosko encouraged them to consider turning the business idea they conceived as a classroom assignment into reality, they stayed in touch over the summer, developing the characters and storyline that will drive the action.
“We want to take the complexities inside a cell, and make them fun for kids to learn,” says Mike Metzmaker, a sophomore from Massachusetts and spokesman for the group.
Other students in the group are Sara Branson of West Virginia, Ashley Edwards of Texas, Michael Epstein of Connecticut, Jane Lee of New Jersey and Elizabeth Newman of Ohio.
This year, the six sophomore entrepreneurs are meeting weekly with Macosko to get valuable guidance on their venture, while fulfilling one of the requirements for an entrepreneurship and social enterprise minor, an option chosen by more than 100 Wake Forest students from across a wide variety of majors. In addition to these advising sessions, the entire group meets each Sunday to plot strategy for the week, and then subcommittees tackle such tasks as market research, writing letters and grant applications and completing the process to attain legal status as a nonprofit corporation.
BioBotz has secured seed funds from the Wake Forest Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts and some money from a private supporter, but to raise the capital needed to launch its initial phase of educational products the company is seeking additional funding from foundations and individuals.