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Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship

How to Work with Project Olympus


Faculty members who are interested in working with Project Olympus should consult the Faculty Application Process and contact Professor Lenore Blum


We welcome all students who are interested in exploring creating a business.

Students who are interested in becoming an Olympus PROBE project should fill out the Business Concept Template [doc] and send it to Kit Needham. We recommend that you read the Frequently Asked Questions before completing the template.

FAQs for Students

We welcome all current CMU students — undergrad, master's and Ph.D. — from all schools across campus.

It will make the best use of both of our time. The template covers all the important questions that you’ll be asked during the first meeting, so this helps you to prepare by making you think through the answers.

Since we are only looking for your high level thoughts, your completed template should be no more than two pages. Try to answer all the questions but if you don’t know how to answer some of them, that’s okay. That is what we help you with. The important thing to remember is that all of the key questions have to be addressed for your business to be successful.

Hint: This is not Silicon Valley so generally the ‘we’ll build it and worry about how we’ll make money later’ model doesn’t work well here. Further, if the revenue is to come from ads, you’ll need to have a fantastic plan (and usually lots of money) for capturing enormous numbers of ‘eyeballs’ before advertisers will pay you enough to make a living. So you should have a ‘Plan B’ for generating alternative sources of revenue.

We wish we could take alumni into our program, but at the moment, we don’t have the resources.  However, we will gladly meet with alumni at least once to offer advice and connect you to resources. Further, some of our programming is open to all and alumni are more than welcome to attend.

Yes. We have a number of teammates from other schools such as Pitt, the Art Institute and even Duke. Teams also have team members that are no longer students at all. The only real requirement is that the key founder or co-founder is a current CMU student.

Your business can be high-tech or low tech or even no tech. While most Olympus startups are software and/or web-based, we have also helped students with business ideas that involve robots, back braces, magnets, bicycles, collapsible stools and circular-saw guides.

Complete the Business Concept Template and send it to Kit Needham, Entrepreneur in Residence, asking for a time to talk. At our first meeting, we’ll discuss your idea, we’ll agree on a number of next steps — mostly of things for you to research or work on and a few that Kit is to provide. You can set up the next meeting then or you can contact Kit when you are ready to meet again.

There are two requirements for being accepted as a full PROBE:

1. Develop a feasible business model. While we often see great technology and innovations, usually a lot more work needs to be done to develop a viable business model.

2. Convince us that you are serious about creating this business. If you are going to use our limited time and resources, we want to make sure that you are really passionate about creating your business. You can convince us by following up on the 'homework,' reaching some milestones and communicating regularly.

A PiP is the first stage of working with Olympus until we are sure both requirements are met. Just like a PROBE, you’ll get advice, introductions and can work in the Olympus space while other PROBE team members are present. However, you can’t be the first to arrive or the last to leave because you won’t get keys and a security code until you become a full PROBE.

In addition to keys and a security code so they can be at Olympus 24/7, PROBEs also are listed on our website and are given greater opportunities for public exposure such as press and TV interviews, and presenting at Olympus Show & Tells. PROBEs also get invited to special meetings and events where attendance is limited. Lastly, only PROBEs are eligible to apply for Spark Grant Funds.

Nope. We only ask two things of the students that we help:

1) Whenever possible and where appropriate, give public recognition that Olympus helped you with your business. Examples of recognition: putting our logo on your presentations and/or listing us as an advisor. And when talking to others and being interviewed by the press, tell them that we helped you. The reason this is important to us is because when we are trying to raise money to fund our operation, it helps when potential donors hear from people like you that we’ve made a difference.

2) Remember us when you are rich and famous! Truly. We hope (and frankly expect) you to express your appreciation with a generous financial contribution to help keep Olympus going so we can help other students in the future.

The only funding that Olympus currently provides students are Spark Grant Fund [pdf] micro-grants up to $5,000. To qualify, you must be a PROBE and the use of the funds must be to help reach a significant milestone.

If the answer is 'NO' to both of these questions, CMU does not claim the right to innovations/inventions developed by its students:

Has there been any federal funding of the research that led to the invention?

(This generally applies to a Ph.D. student or post doc conducting research in a faculty lab that is funded by federal grants.)

Has there been 'substantial use' of university resources (i.e., >~$10,000)?

Yes. One of the services we provide is a methodology to eliminate the least probable ideas and narrow your choices down to one to work on or two to research more thoroughly. To get started, write down a few bullet points for each idea, answering the following: I will offer/produce (what) that will (address what problem or improve some condition) for (who would want to buy or use this product service). Send this in an email to Kit Needham, asking for a time to talk through your ideas.

That’s okay. One of our goals is to help you learn how to evaluate the potential of a new business. We recognize that sometimes the first idea is not your best one. We help you figure out why not and then encourage you to move on to your next idea. We’ll help you with your next idea as well and in fact, we’ve found often your second idea is the better one. Also, sometimes you can have a great product that the market is too small to be a great business. These may be more suitable for licensing rather than for a stand-alone business, and we’ll help you with that too.