Blazing a Trail:  Micro-grants for University Students

by Deborah Hoover

Northeast Ohio needs more new ideas and growing startups to sustain its entrepreneurial pipeline for the future.  Our region’s colleges and universities are teeming with experiments, interdisciplinary thinking, makers, talent, and energy.  This crucible makes higher education campuses great incubators for novel ideas and new ventures, but seed capital to jump start these ideas is often a constraint.  

Earlier this year, Morgan Foundation published the stories of experimental micro-grant programs at Baldwin Wallace University and Kent State University.  These programs demonstrated the need for ready funds that can be easily deployed to move ideas from concept to reality.  Often it is just a few hundred dollars that makes the difference for a student to move forward with their venture. Modest amounts of funding can remove impediments and simultaneously broaden the learning experience for students as they apply, invest, and account for the funding.  The availability of funding through university entrepreneurship centers also serves to attract students into the programming.  Dollars paired with mentoring and counseling greatly enhance the chances of success. 

Sometimes the dollars are delivered as loans and other times the funding is a grant.  Recyclable loan funds allow for perpetual funds that regenerate as loans are repaid and dollars are made available to other student ventures.  Morgan Foundation honored our valued teammate, Alison, at the time of her passing in 2019, with establishment of the Alison J. Burner Venture Support Fund at Hiram College, providing recyclable loans to student ventures.

One student from John Carroll University shared her story with the Foundation:

I was part of the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium Side Hustle program [in 2020], and I wanted to thank you for supporting me through this program. Before, I had no entrepreneurial knowledge, but now I have a concrete plan for writing a fictional novel that will make a statement about gun violence in America.  The micro-grants that I received are going to make all the difference in promoting my novel, and I am very grateful for your support as I begin my entrepreneurial journey.  Thank you, Katy

Katy continues to participate in the University’s entrepreneurship offerings and to work on her cause of combatting gun violence. 

Based on this prior experience, Morgan Foundation decided it was time to delve more deeply into the world of student ventures funding.  Through an RFP process this fall, we were able to award micro-grant funding to 15 campuses in Northeast Ohio.  Each campus devised its own structure, criteria, and award procedures to fit the nature of their culture and programming. (See grants article for more details.)

For Morgan Foundation, while we celebrate successful student ventures, we hold the student’s learning and developmental experience as paramount in building an entrepreneurial mindset that can be further activated in the future.  We believe micro-grants elevate the educational experience for students participating in startup programs, allowing ventures to move forward and their founders to grow in confidence and entrepreneurial skills.