Nonprofit supports the next generation’s big ideas

In the last 20 years, a group of local entrepreneurs has turned its attention to the next generation of people with great ideas. The more than 500 members of TiE Atlanta, the local chapter of a national organization, connect today’s experts with tomorrow’s start-up talent in area high schools and colleges.

Launched as The IndUS Entrepreneurs, the nonprofit TiE debuted in California’s Silicon Valley to support entrepreneurs. That mission soon expanded to include an educational outreach that the Atlanta chapter has embraced. It was singled out last year by the national organization for its student programs, called TiE Young Entrepreneurs.

“We work with students who are up-and-coming entrepreneurs by pairing them with mentors from private and public companies who teach them about all aspects of building a product or service,” said Executive Director Amyn Sadruddin. “We had about 15 mentors when we started nine years ago; now we have about 50 who work with students to actually build something.”

The program partners with about a dozen universities whose students participate in a pitch competition at local, national and international levels.

“This year, we had 23 students come through the qualifying rounds, and 18 went to the national finals,” said Sadruddin. “Our team winner this year went to the global competition against 18 teams world-wide.”

The winning international team was led by Georgia Tech electrical and computer engineering doctoral student Nordine Sebkhi who developed a system that helps people with speech disorders re-learn tongue movements to improve articulation.

The system can also be applied to help quadriplegics control their wheelchairs and other devices. Sebkhi’s team included students from Tech and Emory whose top prize included about $10,000 and a number of in-kind services from law and accounting firms to support their project.

“Just getting the access to mentors who are already inventors is a very good experience,” said Sebkhi. “I highly recommend it to students who have entrepreneurial aspirations.”

Six years ago, the mentor program extended its reach to high schools. Students meet on Sundays with their mentor partners at The Westminster Schools in Buckhead or Woodward Academy in Johns Creek, where sessions focus on financing, raising capital and presentation skills.

“We plug them into industry and business leaders who coach teams and teach them how to get ready for a pitch competition,” said Paul Lopez, the TiE Atlanta president. “We’ve had some cool ideas. These kids come from a lot of different schools – the teams are very diverse – and they really understand how to solve a genuine problem and execute an idea.”

And students need not come to the table with a concept, Lopez adds.

They’ll get guidance by working closely with mentors who help them identify problems they see in their own environments and brainstorm solutions for them.

“Based on that, we make lists of genuine problems and start working on solutions,” said Lopez.

Applications for the upcoming school year are being accepted through Aug. 28, said Lopez. “We try to keep it intimate because it’s so hands-on.”

Information about TiE Atlanta is online at tie.org/programs/tye-global-program.

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Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.