Students Display Entrepreneurial Ideas at Lehigh University’s Hatchery Program

By Kat Schneider on August 6, 2019

Kiara Damon and her project First2Bridge was one of twelve student projects on display at the Hatchery Demo Day, held Aug. 1 at the Wilbur Powerhouse in Bethlehem.

Like most college students, Lehigh University’s Will Cioffi and Hunter Keenan had finances on their minds, specifically how to cut costs.

When the time came to brainstorm project ideas for the Hatchery, Lehigh’s 10-week summer entrepreneurship program in which they both enrolled, a savings program focusing on cutting utility costs for low income families just made sense.

The project, dubbed Youtility, was created with the aim of enabling low income families to afford increases in their rent by leasing products that lower their utility bill, while providing cost-saving behaviors based on individual situations.

“We were renting and having that problem ourselves,” Cioffi said.

It’s this kind of problem solving the Hatchery program seeks to teach, explained Samantha McGinty Dutton, media and marketing specialist at Lehigh University.

“The overarching goal is to teach students the elements of entrepreneurial thinking so that they can apply the problem-solving techniques to their classes, activities, and future endeavors,” Dutton said.

Youtility was one of 12 projects by participating students on display during the Hatchery Demo Day, held Aug. 1 at the Wilbur Powerhouse in Bethlehem.

The recent Demo Day marks the second year of the Hatchery program organized by Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation. The course allows students to develop entrepreneurial solutions, test potential business ideas, and learn the foundational skills of entrepreneurship work on problems that matter.

For Keenan, the immersive Monday-through-Friday program fostered his ability to think creatively and on his feet, and gave him skills he will apply to other aspects of his education.

“The program teaches you to swim by actually swimming,” Keenan said.

Comprised of 20 students from 12 majors, the Hatchery’s 2019 cohort offered projects ranging from a service providing users to acquire highly sought-after sneakers at retail prices, to a service providing first generation college students with resources to choose the school that’s right for them, to an online marketplace for hair extensions, to an online vegan shoe company.

Students in the Hatchery spent two weeks learning the foundations of entrepreneurship, and then self-identified problems they wanted to solve over the remaining ten weeks. They researched, prototyped, and tested their ideas working either in teams or individually.

The Hatchery is composed of topical “nests,” where students are placed based on their ideas. In these nests – which cover consumer issues, educational technology, healthcare and housing – students are guided by Lehigh faculty and staff and Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs who visit the program as guest experts. Students are also informed about the many resources available to them in the Lehigh Valley as they continue to develop their ideas, Dutton said.

Christina D’ecclesiis, who came back as a fellow after falling in love with the program in its inaugural year, said the most important thing she learned was what could be gained by stepping outside of the classroom and taking her project to the community for input.

“One of the most important parts of this entrepreneurial education is you have to talk to people,” D’ecclesiis said. “The World is out there and not in the building.”

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