bizdom u: where graduates earn a degree in startups

It’s no secret that Cleveland historically has been a manufacturing town. But times have changed and the manufacturing industry just isn’t what it used to be. Attempting to "manufacture" a different path while promising to help kindle a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit is Bizdom U.
Bizdom U is a business accelerator that trains, mentors and funds aspiring entrepreneurs to launch innovative, growth-oriented startup companies. Founded and launched by Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, in Detroit in 2007, the idea behind the organization is to take entrepreneurs through a rigorous training program that not only fosters ideas, but creates new businesses, jobs and industry in the metro area.
“Cities like Detroit and Cleveland are very reliant on manufacturing,” explains Andradia Scovil, recruiting leader for Bizdom U Cleveland. “The transition had to be made to a more innovative and entrepreneurial economy. We’re manufacturing entrepreneurs.”
Bizdom U focuses on people who are ready to make that transition happen. “We’re seeking passionate, dedicated individuals who are knowledgeable about the fields in which they are trying to start their businesses,” says Scovil. “The ideal candidate is an aspiring entrepreneur who has an idea for a scalable, growth-oriented business and could use some help in developing it."
Scovil adds that businesses must be for-profit and headquartered in the city of Cleveland.
The non-profit program consists of two components, both free to participants: The Idea Generator and Launch Lab. The first step is the Idea Generator, an eight-week program during which prospective business owners hash out their ideas and develop them into full-blown business models. It’s held on nights and weekends so participants can keep their day jobs.
“The Idea Generator asks questions like “What is the culture of your business going to be? or How do your customers feel and how do your employees feel?” explains Scovil. “We don’t usually stress the business idea because ideas change. It’s not about who is right, it’s about what is right.”
At the end of the idea-generating segment, participants have the opportunity to pitch their business to Bizdom U leaders for seed money and start their company in the Launch Lab. Entrepreneurs accepted to the Launch Lab spend three months launching the business, all while receiving mentoring and coaching in sales, marketing and general business skills. At this stage, Bizdom U will invest $10,000, plus additional stipends for the founders in exchange for eight percent equity in the company.
“Passion is probably the number one quality because that’s what is going to keep you going,” Scovil says. “You need a results-driven attitude. When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s intense, and Bizdom U is an intense program.”
Since its inception four years ago Bizdom U Detroit has launched 13 businesses. Of the 50 people who have completed the program, approximately 20 have gone on to launch businesses creating roughly 20 jobs.
Lauren Hornes, founder and CEO of Testify Communications, attended the Detroit Bizdom U to help develop and launch her online giving system for non-profit organizations. “I was thinking of different churches I attended and that they rely on paper bulletins in services [to raise funds] and how they were missing out on an opportunity to reach people,” Hornes recalls of her business idea. “While in the program there were a lot of exercises and speakers who helped formulate the idea for Testify Communications. I would take the information home, turning it over in my mind and thinking about what is the problem I want to solve.”
Bizdom U’s programs helped Hornes turn her idea into a successful online business. “When I went into the program I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do,” she says. Today, the business is thriving and Hornes continues to expand beyond Detroit. Soon, Testify will hire its first full-time team member.
Adam Grant went through Detroit’s Bizdom U to help foster his idea for Campus Commandos, an organization that provides student representatives to companies for marketing purposes. “We help companies market to the college demographic through student reps and ambassador programs to market their products,” explains Grant, who paid his way through college as a student rep. “So I knew I wanted to get into their youth marketing space.”
Bizdom U helped Grant identify exactly what he wanted to do. “When you first graduate from college you’re kind of rough around the edges,” he says. “They smoothed it out through sales coaches and good mentors. They were on me about the details. They made me take a deep dive every time I had a thought.” Today, Campus Commandos has enacted student marketing campaigns at 31 universities, training about 75 Campus Reps in total. These universities include Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Purdue, Michigan, and many others. In addition to Adam, the company has one other full-time team member.
The folks at Bizdom U Cleveland hope to have similar accomplishments to tout for its program, which officially kicks off Monday, October 17. The identities of the 25 to 30 candidates will be revealed three days prior on October 14.
“We are focused on what we call ‘brain economy’ -- businesses that leverage the internet and are rooted in innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Scovil. “We’re looking for companies that we can grow and scale from a limited number of locations without having to open up brick-and-mortar stores.”

- Images 1 - 3: Andradia Scovil, recruiting leader for Bizdom U Cleveland - Bob Perkoski
- Images 4 & 5: Adam Grant of Campus Commandos - courtesy of Adam Grant
- Images 6 & 7: Bizdom U Detroit Fall 2010 Team - courtesy of Bizdom U

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
Signup for Email Alerts