MadXLabs Boost Student Business Ventures

by Karen Doss Bowman


For nearly two years, senior Luke Farrago and junior Ted Gilman operated their custom flag-printing business, University Customs, out of the apartment they share in Harrisonburg. But as the company grew, they realized the need to find a professional working space and have access to resources that would help them make better business decisions.

When Farrago and Gilman heard about MadXLabs, James Madison University’s (JMU) incubator for student startups, they immediately applied. Now, they use a co-working office space in Wilson Hall with other student entrepreneurs, and they enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with others.

“Being around like-minded people is a huge plus for us,” says Farrago, a business management major. “Being in a workspace where you’re not thinking about classes, but you’re focused on something you’re passionate about--and you’re surrounded by other people who have brilliant ideas--it’s huge. We can build off each other. It’s just the perfect environment for that.”

MadXLabs, sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship, offers essential resources to promote success for student ventures. The teams accepted into MadXLabs must have already  committed to an idea, invested some resources, established presales or prototypes and be prepared to launch a business within six months. During the semester-long program, students participate in monthly cohort meetings, provide bi-weekly progress reports and receive consultation with JMU’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence. They also have 24/7 access to co-working space in the Ice House or in Wilson Hall and receive up to $1,000 discretionary funds for materials or consults to support concept development.  

According to the Center for Entrepreneurship website, the program--which is open to students from all majors on campus--encourages “the development of crucial skills, such as self-motivation and pacing, by helping teams establish milestones and requiring regular status reports, and by offering guidance regarding vetting and managing a startup portfolio.”

MadXLabs manager Chad Hard, a senior management major from Fairfax, Va. says that four other student businesses--in addition to University Customs--currently are involved: Arena LLC, an online recruiting venue for high school athletics; Verified Lifeguards, an online lifeguarding service; Be Free Beverages, offering low-calorie, low-carb alcoholic beverages; and Socialite, who created Clique, a one-stop shop to meet customer’s social media needs.

Hard says his coursework in JMU’s College of Business has prepared him to lead aspiring entrepreneurs. He enjoys the process of helping students write their business plans and develop their marketing strategies.  

“When I took courses such as Entrepreneurship and Venture Creation, I discovered that I had a passion for helping startup companies and for helping people with their creative ideas for businesses,” says Hard, who will start as a sales representative with the startup company, 5G Dispensing Systems, after graduating in May. “MadXLabs is an extremely valuable experience. We learn so much from each other just playing around with different ideas and seeing the viability of these things actually working and relating to real life. It’s a great hands-on learning experience.”

Published: Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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