Tulane Partners Into Bright Idea

March 31, 2004

Mark Miester
Phone: (504) 865-5714

John Elstrott, Lina Alfieri Stern, and Erin Murphy Many interns are almost invisible at the companies they work for, but not Erin Murphy. In her internship with restaurant reservations service, Murphy (B '04) helped the company completely rewrite its business plan.

"Strategy is my strong suit, so I was very comfortable digging into the idea of what the business model is and what the business model should be," says Murphy, who had worked on e-commerce websites for Cendant Corp. before enrolling at Tulane.

"I had more e-commerce experience than most people, so I was familiar with the hard metrics of what you look for in those businesses."

Murphy was matched up with iSeatz through an internship program administered by the Idea Village, a nonprofit "business accelerator" that seeks to provide local start-up companies and entrepreneurs with the support they need to get off the ground and attract venture capital.

The Idea Village was started three years ago by a small group of local business people with the goal of providing a network of business leaders who offer mentorship and other support to local entrepreneurs.
"Going into the program, I was a little skeptical as to how much value they could add to our business model," says Kenneth Purcell, president of iSeatz. "Needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised by what they did for us."

Now, thanks to a new agreement, Tulane will soon be playing a bigger part in helping companies such as iSeatz fly. In January, Tulane and the Idea Village announced the formation of a new partnership to help foster the development of the entrepreneurial community in New Orleans.

The goals of the partnership are to recruit and retain entrepreneurs in the region, to build networks that support entrepreneurs, to build programs that accelerate the development of early-stage businesses, and to educate the community about entrepreneurship.

"What's critical is to build capacity to support entrepreneurs by leveraging talent from our universities," says Tim Williamson (BSM '87), president of the Idea Village. "Universities are critical to creating an entrepreneur community."

The three-year agreement calls for Tulane to provide $60,000 per year to the Idea Village to support its programs. In return, the Idea Village provides Tulane with two free slots to send businesses originating at Tulane through its "boot camp," an intensive program designed to prepare a start-up business to seek financing.

The underlying philosophy of the Idea Village is that new venture creation is the bedrock of economic development, and helping new ventures attract funding without leaving the region results in the creation of jobs and wealth. And Tulane is a wellspring of new venture creation.

"Tulane generates more basic research technology than any other source in Louisiana," says John Elstrott, director of the Freeman School's Levy-Rosenblum Institute for Entrepreneurship. "So what we offer the Idea Village is access to technology that they can help commercialize locally rather than licensing it out of state."

According to Elstrott, Tulane in the past pursued a strategy of licensing technologies to companies like Hoffman-LaRoche or Ciba Geigy in exchange for a royalty. While the university didn't incur any of the expenses involved with taking the technology to market, it also didn't enjoy the full reward.

"The Idea Village wants to assist Tulane in helping its faculty start up businesses that Tulane has both an equity and a royalty interest in," explains Elstrott. "If it works, Tulane has a ground-floor interest in an up-and-coming business as opposed to just a 5 percent royalty. And it's an upside for the community in that the technology gets commercialized locally and creates jobs and wealth."

In addition to offering an internship program and helping Tulane commercialize technologies, a third component of the partnership involves leveraging Tulane's entrepreneurial resources and programs. In particular, Elstrott says the Idea Village is interested in working with Junior Achievement and the University of New Orleans to expand the Levy-Rosenblum Institute's existing high school entrepreneurship program.

"It's so students come out of high school knowing how to save money, manage money and set long-term financial goals," says Elstrott. "We're really excited about that."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000