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Startup Swap: University Offers Tuition for Stake in Business

An upstate New York university is doing more than investing in students. It’s investing in their startups.

In lieu of tuition, Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., is offering young entrepreneurs with established businesses the chance to attend the school through a combination of financial aid and selling a portion of their business to the school.

“We take a very small equity stake each semester,” Marc Compeau, director of Clarkson’s Center for Entrepreneurship, told BusinessNewsDaily. “This way, the university has some skin in the game.”

As members of the program, Compeau said students are offered office space on campus for their businesses, as well as mentoring advice from the school’s faculty and alumni on how to grow and expand their ventures.

With a mission centered on building the economy though small businesses and young entrepreneurs, Compeau believes the program, and its goals of capitalizing on students’ entrepreneurial spirit and encouraging investment in future leaders, is a perfect fit for the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

“What could be a better way for us to promote that?” he said.

Each of the program’s participants, Compeau said, signs a contract with Clarkson after negotiating a final tuition bill and ownership stake agreement with the Center for Entrepreneurship. 

Once the student graduates, he added, there are multiple opportunities for both parties to shift full stake in the business back to the student.

The university started the program this year with its first student, 18-year-old Matthew Turcotte. He has been running his own Web-based development firm, North Shore Solutions, since he was a junior in high school.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I feel fortunate that I attend a university that is as passionate about my business as I am and is so supportive,” Turcotte said in a press release from the college.

Compeau is encouraged by the renewed sense of entrepreneurial spirit he’s seeing in Clarkson’s students.

“It is bigger than ever,” he said, noting many of them are focused on technology-based firms.

The goal, Compeau said, is to have about five students in next year’s program — which in turn can help prompt other students to consider running their own businesses.

 “They will be able to pass on some of their experiences (to their peers) in the classroom,” he said.

Clarkson’s Center for Entrepreneurship provides counsel throughout the entrepreneurs’ undergraduate experience and identifies resources within the university and community that will help develop students' skills, technical innovations and networks into commercial opportunities.



Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.