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October 22, 2013

Polsky-aided companies see success

Budding entrepreneurs are seeing their efforts on campus pay off in the real world.

Eleven student businesses that began and developed with support and resources from the Polsky Center at the Booth School of Business have been acquired or merged this past year, including GrubHub, which merged with Seamless on August 9, and Braintree, which was acquired by eBay for $800 million on September 26.

With an endowment of $7 million, Michael Polsky (M.B.A. '87) founded the Michael P. Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2002, with the goal of advancing the University as an entrepreneurial hub through academics, research, and global outreach.

The resources and exposure provided by the Polsky Center have been vital in developing and growing business start-ups, according to Jason Brown (M.B.A. ’09), the founder of Gen110, a company that provides homeowners a cost-effective, alternative way to purchase residential electricity.

“We started Gen110 with a lot of help from the Polsky Center and support from the Booth community,” he said. “In fact, Travis Bradford, the professor of our Renewable Energy class, was our company’s first investor. Other prominent Booth alumni quickly followed his lead and enabled us to raise the capital to launch the company one week after we graduated from Booth.”

Gen110 is now one of the largest residential solar companies in California and was recently acquired by Choose Energy on September 26.

An additional endowment from Polsky in 2012 further supported several programs in the Center, such as the Edward L. Kaplan ’71 New Venture Challenge, the University’s premier start-up program, from which many of the recently acquired businesses were first conceived as ideas. This competition gives students from across the University the opportunity to work in teams to come up with ideas and build business plans while receiving guidance from faculty, experienced investors, and established entrepreneurs.

The recent string of success for Polsky-supported businesses is indicative of a larger trend at the Center, according to Associate Director of Marketing, Communications, and External Relations Tracey Elder.

“We’ve been on a growth trajectory these couple of years,” she said. “We opened up our programs to the rest of the University, thanks to Michael Polsky’s endowment.”

The New Venture Challenge, for example, has expanded from its original Booth-focused iteration and now includes three additional tracks: Social, Global, and College. Now, even undergraduates have the opportunity to begin their career as entrepreneurs and perhaps launch the next GrubHub or Braintree.

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