3 Programs to Help you Become an Entrepreneur While Studying in the U.S.

Do you want to start your own business while studying in the U.S.? The Department of Homeland Security shares information on proper employment authorization. “F-1 students who plan to start their own business in the United States, must qualify and apply for OPT. The OPT, and thus the business, must relate to your program of study and can occur either before (pre-completion OPT) or after the completion of a program of study (post-completion OPT)”.

UConn offers a few options to help foster entrepreneurial dreams and assist students who aspire to launch their businesses. UConn’s Third Bridge Grant Program, Accelerate UConn, and the Summer Fellowship offer grants for up to $75,000, training sessions, resources, and immersive entrepreneurial experiences.

Third Bridge Grant Program

Connecticut Innovations and the UConn School of Engineering established The Third Bridge to “identify promising technologies developed within engineering labs and student innovation to facilitate their path to successful commercialization. The goal of the grants is to evolve the student’s business idea to the point that it meets the qualifications for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding. UConn entrepreneurial engineering students who are currently enrolled in ENGR-5300 or students who have completed ENGR-5300 are invited to apply for the “Third Bridge Grant” awards ranging from $10K to $75K per applicant. Between four to seven qualified student-led applications will be funded each year.” To apply for this grant, see Third Bridge Grant Program.

Accelerate UConn 

Accelerate UConn is UConn’s National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps). “Its mission is to catalyze entrepreneurial teams whose technology concepts are likely candidates for commercialization. Educational programs share the principles of the I-Corps Curriculum on Lean Launchpad methodology. With the support of Accelerate UConn, teams will learn first-hand about entrepreneurship and explore the transition of their ideas, devices, processes, or other intellectual activities into the marketplace.” Accelerate UConn provides a 5-week course on communicating value, an understanding of the market, identifying customers, and much more. The student also receives up to $2,000 towards customer discovery and development. For further information visit Accelerate UConn.

UConn Summer Fellowship

The Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is UConn’s start-up accelerator program. This is an 8-week program where participants develop skills to bring new products, services, and technologies to market. Teams are provided with pro bono legal and accounting services to help with initial business setup and support. The program “prepares startups to launch their company, generate revenue, raise funding (grants, investments, etc.), and be accepted into next step opportunities such as incubators and accelerator programs”. To learn about program application deadlines head to UConn Summer Fellowship.

UConn’s International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) explains that to apply for CPT, all three of these entrepreneurial programs must be related to your curriculum. F-1 students who start a business in the context of these programs may apply for CPT and begin participating. J-1 students can apply for Academic Training authorization. Or F-1 visa student must have approved Optional Practical Training (OPT) to start a business. For this to occur, the work must be directly related to the curriculum. Students are permitted to work up to a total of 20 hours per week during the academic school year. International students who are interested in pursuing an entrepreneurship program should check with your ISSS advisor about CPT/OPT.

For further information about applying for OPT/CPT at UConn visit International Student & Scholar Services (ISSS). Another useful resource at UConn is the Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation which includes UConn start-up resources (funding opportunities, internships, competitions, and much more)!

By Desiree Martino
Desiree Martino Career Coach | Pronouns she/her