Students awarded scholarships for entrepreneurship
Jeffrey Vinokur knows a thing or two about being self-taught.
When the sophomore biochemistry major from Montvale, N.J., decided in his senior year of high school that he wanted to learn a hip-hop dance style called “popping,” he turned to YouTube for videos on how to do the moves.
He quickly mastered them and offered up a set of instructional dance videos on YouTube that have been viewed more than 5 million times. Vinokur, now self-taught in entrepreneurship as well as dancing, runs a Web site — http://www.TheRussianTiger.com — where he sells videos to budding hip-hop dancers as far away as Saudi Arabia and Great Britain.
Vinokur is a recipient of one of this year’s Wiscontrepreneur scholarships, awarded to University of Wisconsin–Madison freshmen and sophomores by the UW–Madison Office of Corporate Relations (OCR) to foster and invigorate entrepreneurial skills and practices on campus. In all, nine scholarships of $2,500 each are being awarded.
Supported by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, the Wiscontrepreneur initiative offers a variety of courses, programs, awards and activities to spur entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking across the entire campus, and statewide.
“The scholarship winners represent the best examples of creativity and ingenuity among students across disciplines and majors,” says Charles Hoslet, OCR managing director. “We look forward to watching these students develop their talents and contribute to fields ranging from business to the arts.”
While Vinokur wants to inspire people to learn to express themselves through “popping,” he also has a more practical reason for offering the videos.
“Everything I make through this entrepreneurial venture is going toward my college tuition,” he says.
The Wiscontrepreneur scholarships were created two years ago and are the first of their kind aimed at students from all fields of study who demonstrate an affinity for entrepreneurship, Hoslet says.
“Entrepreneurship in the greater world isn’t confined to one area of business, and it shouldn’t be limited at UW–Madison, either,” he says. “It has the ability to create opportunities and fuel a weak, or strong, economy.”
Cydney Edwards is one of those students who have forged a different approach to entrepreneurship. The legal studies major from Chicago is a member of UW–Madison’s First Wave program centered on spoken word and hip-hop culture. Edwards says she’ll use the scholarship to help her publish a book of poetry — a longtime goal of hers.
“I really associated becoming an entrepreneur with pursuing business, so I never really thought it was necessarily for me,” she says. “I always thought of it as people investing in a project and opening a restaurant or opening their own store…but when I thought about it, I figured why not do this for my book?”
Other winners of this year’s Wiscontrepreneur scholarships include:
- Michael Bethencourt, computer science and computer engineering, from Mount Horeb, Wis. Bethencourt founded FreedomDesigns.org, a “name your own price” freelance Web design business and is working to create software for a collaborative graphic design program.
- Logan Cascia, double major in management and human resources with emphasis in entrepreneurship, and communication arts with film emphasis, from Glenview, Ill. Cascia has received critical acclaim for a film about the life of a 15-year-old blind boy, which he plans to submit to the Wisconsin Film Festival, and hopes to work on music videos, live concerts and Internet television shows.
- Gabriel De Los Reyes, double major in English and theater, from Miami. De Los Reyes developed PoetsLive, an online community for poets and performers and works for InkRed, a lifestyle and clothing company that promotes hip-hop artists, community involvement and social activism.
- Wally Graeber, landscape architecture major from Twin Lakes, Wis. Graber is the owner of WG Lakefront & Lawn Services LLC and is working to launch Badgerscapes Landscape Design this spring.
- Jordan Heiftiz, finance major from Glencoe, Ill. Heiftiz started a DJ business at age 12 that now employs about 20 people. The company provided entertainment at the 2009 White House Easter Egg Roll.
- Joe Powell, mechanical engineering major from New Berlin, Wis. Powell created and tested a mechanism for harvesting meat at the Meat Science Lab and started a computer repair business in his dorm.
- Lisa Rosenblum, marketing major from New Rochelle, N.Y. Rosenblum helped restart the UW–Madison chapter of Delta Sigma Pi, a co-ed business fraternity that had been inactive for 10 years and plans to one day open a business that helps the environment.
“Helping students advance their entrepreneurial goals is one of the rewarding parts of our Wiscontrepreneur efforts,” adds Hoslet. “I’m confident this year’s scholarship winners will inspire other students to find ways to turn their passions into profitable ventures.”