How a JMU sophomore is helping students become entrepreneurs


2015 Bluestone Hacks poster

Silicon Valley may be the hotbed of start-ups, but sophomore Andrew Carlone wants to throw JMU into the mix with a new start-up accelerator called MadX Labs.

Accelerators are 12- to 14-week programs where a business gets help testing and growing its business model. Businesses get access to things such as mentorship, office space and funding. Carlone learned about accelerators when he and his business partner were flown to Cincinnati last year to pitch their business, Jobly, to an accelerator. The accelerator wanted to invest in their business, but they wanted the two partners to drop out of school to invest their efforts into their business full-time. The two partners decided to stay in school, but Carlone didn't leave empty handed. He had an epiphany.

"I thought what a better way than to bring that back to JMU, and give everybody the best of both worlds where you can experience the benefits of an accelerator program with the mentorship, the funding, the office space and the training to test, launch and grow your business, but allow you to be a student," said Carlone.

After pitching the concept last semester, Carlone is testing MadX Labs this semester with a beta launch of the 12-week program. Currently, he has two groups in the program. One is an app group called Swap and the other is a wearable tech company called Venzo. Carlone advises the groups along with a student venture capital team he created. "It's an interdisciplinary skill set of student entrepreneurs from SMAD, ISAT, physics and math, and finance," said Carlone.

In addition to the student venture capital team, Carlone met with entrepreneurs, some of whom are JMU alumni, to find a professional mentor for the teams. "We've had a ton of response from mentors. I've been putting them in contact with these teams in floods because there are 25 mentors and only two teams," said Carlone.

The program culminates with Demo Day in the last week. On Demo Day, "you pitch to an invite only audience of JMU investors, JMU connected investors and JMU alumni angel investors," said Carlone. Because both of the current groups have enough funding, Demo Day will be simulated this semester with the Center for Entrepreneurship Advisory Council acting as the investors.

Carlone plans to launch MadX Labs university wide in the fall. The launch begins with an application period called the Madison Challenge. "The Madison Challenge will take place the first two weeks of the semester, and signals the open application period for MadX Labs," said Carlone. "You have to apply, and then you have to be interviewed."

The goal is to have three to four start-ups, which means Carlone needs to get more funding. "We raised a little bit of money to seed the fund to invest in these companies next semester, but we need to raise a lot of money because we are looking to invest $20,000 in three to four startups for a 5 percent equity stake," said Carlone. After including operating costs, he would like to have around $100,000.

To raise the money, Carlone came up with a pay-to-play fundraising model. People interested in mentoring or investing in a start-up group will be required to donate to MadX Labs. "The number we are playing with right now is a $5,000 donation," said Carlone. "The people we are targeting and talking to say that is very reasonable."

Carlone's previous entrepreneurship experience and creation of MadX Labs have provided him with a new opportunity. This year, Carlone was one of five JMU students, along with Chris Ashley, Jack O'Neill, Timothy Moore and Emily Platt, selected for the University Innovation Fellows program. "I was accepted into this six-week program where you assess the landscape in innovation entrepreneurship, the key stakeholders and how you are going to attack it and create transformative initiatives on campus in innovation and entrepreneurship," said Carlone. Only 123 undergraduates across the US were selected for the program.

The Fellows are hosting a hackathon event called Bluestone Hacks from 6 p.m. on Friday, April 17, to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 18 in the Memorial Hall Forum. The competition is open to all students across the JMU campus, and no programming knowledge is required. Each team will work with mentors from companies including Cisco, Capital One, ABS, Target and more to develop innovative solutions in food, medicine and technology. The top three teams in each category will win cash prizes. The goal is to recreate the hackathon to involve students from multiple disciplines, who can create new perspectives and ideas. "Maybe the ideas and companies that come out of these hackathons we are stimulating across the university will go to MadX Labs," said Carlone.

Through UIF and MadX Labs, Carlone wants to ingrain his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship into the JMU culture. " We're trying to get exposure university-wide, and drive engagement across every discipline at the university. It doesn't matter how old you are, what you are studying or what your idea is," said Carlone.

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By Josh Kelly ('15), JMU Public Affairs

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Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Last Updated: Monday, January 25, 2021

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