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UW Engineering Graduate Starts Student Entrepreneurship Organization

August 30, 2016
Brad Orr mugshot
Brad Orr

Like a lot of Wyoming teenagers, Brad Orr spent his summers mowing lawns around his neighborhood to earn cash. Now, he is leveraging that experience to help University of Wyoming students jump-start potential small businesses.

A native of Casper, Orr is a graduate student in business administration and electrical engineering. He earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in spring 2016. Now, Orr is spearheading an effort to start a recognized student organization (RSO) geared toward entrepreneurship at UW. He will lean on his experience running a fledgling lawn care business in Casper as a 14-year-old.

“It was about the only thing I could do at that age,” Orr says. “It started out as my dad and grandpa helping out a lot, but, by the time I was 17, it was just my friend and I. I was collecting money from customers. It was really enjoyable, and I learned a whole lot. I made the decisions and organized people and kept client relationships healthy.”

He enjoyed his experience as a small-business owner, and wants to share his knowledge and encourage students across campus to bring their ideas for startups.

“The vast majority of new companies in Wyoming are going to be centered around technology and software, and these are areas the state wants to diversify in,” College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) Dean Michael Pishko says. “Students and recent graduates are great for this because they’re hungry, enthusiastic and willing to take risks. They’ve got great ideas. This RSO, which I fully support, is part of that ecosystem to bring students from engineering and health sciences and the arts together to think about creating companies.”

The entrepreneurship RSO is in the initial stages of formation. Orr has talked with several groups across campus and has support from places like the CEAS and the College of Business.

“It’s about students getting together to create a novel organization designed to work at the interface between technology and business to help create an ecosystem that fosters creation of new companies,” Pishko adds. “This is very exciting because it supports our Tier-1 mission.”

One of Orr’s goals is to support students as they apply to the John P. Ellbogen $30k Entrepreneurship Competition and Fisher Innovation Challenge. Those contests offer aspiring entrepreneurs a chance at substantial seed money and mentoring. In the latest Fisher Innovation Challenge, nine projects associated with the CEAS made the final list.

“We’re hoping to involve people across campus -- whoever wants to start a business,” Orr says. “Some applications are turned away for things such as poor grammar or incomplete ideas. There are a lot of lessons people could learn sooner if they had someone to mentor them through the process. I hope with this student group to contribute to others’ success. Really, you just need someone with some experience to tell you where you can improve.”

As the RSO becomes more established, Orr hopes to host a “make-a-thon,” a competition that lasts 24-48 hours and involves teams of engineers building a project to send to market.

“Engineering and entrepreneurship go together very well,” he says. “Lots of engineers have some idea of what they’d like to improve, and right there you have the start of what could be a business if they were able to see it through. If you have an idea, you can build it. If you have the business background, you can sell it. It’s nice to be able to do both so you don’t have to hire someone else, plus, it’s a ton of fun.”

Orr expects approval from campus on his RSO, and if that happens, he will host an initial meeting for the organization within the first few weeks of the fall semester.

“I’d like to think that starting businesses here and encouraging it would bring other people and companies to Wyoming,” he says. “There are plenty of opportunities, and I think you could really support the state and replace some of what’s been lost recently with the energy downturn.”

For more information, email Orr at borr4@uwyo.edu.

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