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Sweeping entrepreneurial programs at ASU nurture student entrepreneurs.
ASU provides everything from advice and workspace to thousands in investments.
November 28, 2016

Classes, mentorship, cash prizes help launch range of ventures; programs make university ideal spot for turning ideas to businesses

One company makes nanoparticle coatings and another creates theater for young children. Other ventures include a nonprofit that cleans water for poor villages, a gig economy of English-language speakers and an app that makes charitable donations easier.

These wide-ranging projects were all launched by Arizona State University students and nurtured by the university’s sweeping entrepreneurial programs, which provide everything from expert advice and workspace to thousands of dollars in investments. And every year, more high-level competitions pump more money into student-driven ventures.

The programs make ASU a magnet for innovators at every stage of entrepreneurship, from freshmen with a wild idea to community business owners who want to expand, crossing disciplines and putting students together with people who have succeeded — and failed — at creating new businesses.

This sprawling model allows ASU to reach more potential innovators, said Christie Kerner, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

“We have a highly distributed model for entrepreneurship at ASU, and it’s quite powerful,” Kerner said.

“By having several pockets of entrepreneurship, we keep the concept of innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset much closer to the technical thinker. If it lived solely in the business school, we would have a lot of business people talking about how they would change the world. But we wouldn’t have the nursing student or the journalism student.”

Like a sport

Brent Sebold compares entrepreneurship to a sport.

“We’re all fans of building something that will change peoples’ lives for the better, but there’s only a small percent who are actually willing to engage in the hard work of building a product or service that will deliver that impact,” said Sebold, director of the Startup CenterBoth Kerner and Sebold are also on the executive team at ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation within the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. He and Kerner are cross-appointed to the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Sebold as executive director of venture development and Kerner as executive director of ASU student entrepreneurship.

There are currently about 200 student ventures at ASU, Sebold said.

“We have 600 student-athletes at the university, and I feel we should have at least 600 student entrepreneurs.”

One of the first places that students encounter the entrepreneurial mindset is in the classroom. ASU offers more than 90 academic courses in entrepreneurship, ranging from a one-credit online course called “Start-Up School” to a class on “the enterprising musician.” There are four undergraduate degrees, eight master’s programs and four certificates that have an emphasis in entrepreneurship.

New this year is the three-semester master of arts program in creative enterprise and cultural leadership, according to Linda Essig, director of enterprise and entrepreneurship programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The degree is designed for people who want to create successful enterprises in the art and design world.

Essig said the Herberger faculty has driven the outlook that art can be aligned with making a living.

“Unlike many arts schools across the country, many of our faculty are really invested in the idea that artists and designers can and should make their way in the world through entrepreneurship, and we value the ability of our students to innovate and to be the designers of their own future,” she said.

In the Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, journalism students work with engineering, design and business students on projects including websites or mobile apps. Last year, a New Media Innovation Lab team developed On Time PHX, a free mobile app that gives real-time information for light rail commuters.

Outside the classroom, young entrepreneurs are nurtured through student groups, idea showcases and maker spaces to try things out. Every Thursday night, the Generator Lab hosts a speaker, team-building mixer or other event to inspire future innovators.

Yasmin Ahmed of the Somali United Council of Arizona shows off her designs during the Social Entrepreneurship Expo last year, in which students in ASU's School of Social Work trained refugees in entrepreneurship. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


ASU involves the off-campus community as well:

• The annual Hacks for Humanities is a 36-hour competition sponsored by Project Humanities in which students, faculty and community members create technical solutions to address social issues.

• The Healthcare Entrepreneurship Clinic partners students in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law with early-stage health-care and technology start-ups.

• Last year, the Office of Global Social Work led a team of undergraduate and graduate students gave technical assistance to the several Phoenix refugee groups as they created their entrepreneurial pitches for investors.

$700,000 in cash prizes

Like the free-market economy that’s based on competition, one of the most important parts of ASU’s entrepreneurial offerings are the contests. They range from just-for-fun events to contests in which winners take home a few hundred bucks to big-time competitions that offer tens of thousands of dollars from investors.

The Herberger Institute’s Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship runs the Arts Venture Incubator, which has launched several dozen student-led enterprises in Arizona, including Kerfuffle, which creates theater for young children in Mesa. More than 20 teams applied for the incubator this year, Essig said.

Some competitions have two rounds, offering money to the semi-finalists so they can prepare their final pitches. Some are invitation-only, based on how well the teams perform in an entrepreneurial class.

The Sun Devil Igniter Challenge awards a $50,000 investment to the team that creates an idea that has the potential to disrupt an industry. The winner this year, chosen earlier this month, is Koine, a platform that makes it easier for people to donate to charity through social media.

The New Venture Challenge awards more than $110,000 in cash and services. Last spring, four teams divided the prize money, with LN Technologies the winner and Chang’s Chat coming in second. That competition is part of a graduate-level course run by entrepreneur Scott Wald, a software entrepreneur who earned a master’s of business administration degree from ASU.

New last year was the Pakis Social Challenge, which awarded $20,000 to a team that creates a solution to a social problem. Last year’s winner was the All Walks Project, a nonprofit organization created by ASU students that helps victims of sex trafficking.

Many of the winning ideas are technologies — apps and platforms — or nonprofit service models. But new this year is the Glowing Minds Consumer Product Challenge, which will award $35,000 to a team that creates an innovative product. The competition is funded by David Watson, who created the Philosophy beauty brand.

“He came to us and said, 'I want to see more people focus on innovation in the consumer product category,'” Kerner said.

The prize pot is growing, Kerner said.

“With everything just this year, we’re over $700,000 in cash and over $800,000 in services,” she said.

Learning to pivot

Chang Liu, left, and Megan Kirk pitched their business, then called Let's Chat, at the New Venture Challenge in May. With $145,000 in cash investment and services, the team changed the name to Chang's Chat. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now.


Part of the entrepreneurial mindset is the ability to be nimble. Two of the most successful ASU start-ups learned how crucial that skill is.

Chang’s Chat is a platform invented by three ASU students, Megan Kirk and Elizabeth Oviedo, who graduated with master’s of business degrees last spring, and Chang Liu, a marketing student in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Liu came up with the idea when she arrived at ASU and realized that despite years of learning English in China, she couldn’t communicate. She found that conversation with a native speaker is the best way to learn a new language.

Chang’s Chat lets native speakers in the United States earn money by holding conversations with English-language learners in China through a smartphone app.

Like many of the most successful ventures, Chang’s Chat was in multiple competitions, winning some but not all. In total, the business has reaped more than $145,000 in cash and services. The team won time spent with a branding expert and an intellectual-property lawyer, who persuaded them to change the name from Let’s Chat to Chang’s Chat.

Another big winner, LN Technologies, had to pivot as well.

“What we thought the business would be is completely different from where we are now,” said Peter Firth, a doctoral student who launched the company with Zachary Holman, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering at ASU. They developed a delivery system for nanoparticle coatings, similar to an aerosol spray nozzle.

“We thought we would sell equipment and that was our business,” Firth said.

But after working with Wald, the team changed course and is licensing its technology — “something we never would have thought of on our own and much more viable than what we thought of.”

While the investments in some of the ASU competitions seem huge, it takes a lot of money to start a business. Right before winning the $45,000 New Venture Challenge in May, Firth and Holman found out that they won a $2.2 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

“One of our systems costs us $200,000,” he said. “But you can’t spend the federal grant on marketing or plane tickets, so that $45,000 has been really useful.”

LN Technologies is currently doing feasibility studies with several companies and Firth is hoping their technology will be integrated within a year.

Besides winning the competition investment, the business also got help from ASU’s tech transfer office.

“They really do have one of the best programs in the country, and you can tell they really want you to succeed and they’ll do anything to help you do it.”


Top photo: Drew Tsao (left) and Marcus Jones pitch their charity fund-raising venture, called Koine, at the Igniter Challenge competition earlier this month. Sean Kimball is the other member of the Koine team, which won the event and a $50,000 investment. Photo by Nicholas White/W. P. Carey School of Business

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Parents should avoid pressuring young children over grades, ASU study says

Parents should accentuate kindness and respect to help foster academic success.
High emphasis on achievement leads to lower GPAs, ASU study shows.
November 28, 2016

Compassion, decency just as important during the formative years, according to research

Suniya LutharSuniya Luthar, ASU Foundation Professor of psychology

New research from ASU suggests parents shouldn’t obsess over grades and extracurricular activities for young schoolchildren, especially if such ambitions come at the expense of social skills and kindness.

Doing so, the study says, can work against helping kids become well-adjusted and successful later in life.

“When parents emphasize children’s achievement much more than their compassion and decency during the formative years, they are sowing the seeds of stress and poorer well-being, seen as early as sixth grade,” said Suniya Luthar, a Foundation Professor of psychologyThe Department of Psychology is a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at ASU and one of the co-authors of the study.

“In order to foster well-being and academic success during the critical years surrounding early adolescence, our findings suggest that parents should accentuate kindness and respect for others at least as much as (or more than) stellar academic performance and extracurricular accolades.”

The study, “When mothers and fathers are seen as disproportionately valuing achievements: Implications for adjustment among upper middle class youth,” is published in the current early online edition of the Journal of Youth and AdolescenceLuthar co-authored the study with Lucia Ciciolla of Oklahoma State University, Alexandria Curlee, an ASU psychology doctoral student, and Jason Karageorge, a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco.

The study focused on perceptions of parents’ values among 506 sixth grade students from an affluent community. Kids were asked to rank the top three of six things their parents valued for them. Three values were about personal successes such as good grades and a successful later career, and the other three were about kindness and decency towards others.

The researchers examined underlying patterns on scores based on children’s perceptions of their parents’ achievement emphasis (relative to children’s kindness to others). These patterns on perceived achievement emphasis were compared against the children’s school performance and actions as measured by grade-point average and in-class behaviors. 

The authors tried to determine if there were differences in how children were doing psychologically and academically, depending on their parents’ values. They chose students entering middle school because of the immense changes that children experience at this stage, both physiologically and psychologically. Results showed that mothers and fathers perceived emphases on achievement versus interpersonal kindness played a key role in the child’s personal adjustment and academic performance, as did perceptions of parents’ criticism.

Specifically, Luthar said that the best outcomes were among children who perceived their mothers and fathers as each valuing kindness toward others as much as, or more than, achievements. Much poorer outcomes were seen among children who perceived either mothers or fathers valuing their achievements more highly than they valued being kind to others. These youth experienced more internalizing symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, externalizing or acting out behaviors and lower self-esteem, as well as more parental criticism. And paradoxically given their parents high emphases on achievements, these students also had lower GPAs, and were reported by teachers to have more learning problems and disruptive behavior at school.

The findings demonstrate the value of being socially oriented, Luthar said. “It is beneficial for kids to be strongly connected with their social networks, whereas focusing too much on external validations (such as grades, extra-curricular honors) for their sense of self-worth can lead to greater insecurity, anxiety and overall distress.”

What was surprising in the study, Ciciolla said, was how strongly children’s psychological and academic performance, consistently across a number of different measures, were tied to what children believed their parents cared most about. And it did not matter much whether both parents or either parent were thought to more highly value achievement than kindness to others — having disproportionate emphasis on achievement coming from either parent was generally harmful.

It was also surprising, she said, that children who viewed their parents as valuing kindness to others much more highly than achievement did not appear to be suffering academically.

“It seems that emphasizing kindness as a top priority may not take the spotlight off achievement, because we found that these children did very well over all, including in their academics,” Ciciolla explained. “But when children believed their parents cared most about achievement, possibly related to how parents communicated this message and if it came across as critical, they did worse across the board.”

“To be clear,” Ciciolla said, “our data did not show that encouraging achievement in itself is bad. It becomes destructive when it comes across as critical, and when it overshadows, or does not co-exist with, a simultaneous value on more intrinsic goals that are oriented toward personal growth, interpersonal connections and community well-being.”

“The key is balance,” Luthar added. “Not pushing kids to achieve or succeed at the expense of maintaining close relationships to others. And, we as parents must watch our tones,” she cautioned, “because sometimes, what we might think is encouragement to perform better comes across to our kids as criticism for not being ‘good enough’ by their standards.”

“The more parents are able to balance their encouragement of personal success with encouragement of maintaining kindness and personal decency, the more likely it is that children will do well,” she added. “This is especially true for kids in high achieving schools and communities where the reverberating message they hear from their earliest years is that above all else they must distinguish themselves as top-notch, or the very best, across their various activities, academic as well as extracurricular.”


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Associate Director , Media Relations & Strategic Communications