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“People often say entrepreneurs are born, not made,” said Rahul Saxena, ME 1997, director of Georgia Tech’s CREATE-X program. “But we are showing that you can make them.”

CREATE-X, Georgia Tech’s initiative to promote entrepreneurial confidence in students and empower them to launch successful startups, celebrates 10 years of success this year. The mission of CREATE-X is to provide students with resources, coaching, and funding so that they develop the entrepreneurial confidence — the boldness — necessary to create real-world impact. Beginning with a cohort of 12 startup teams in the 2014-15 academic year, CREATE-X now produces more than 100 student-led ventures each year.

“Philanthropy has been the underpinning upon which CREATE-X was built, and it would not have been successful otherwise,” said Steve McLaughlin, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs and CREATE-X co-founder. “CREATE-X is itself a startup, and we always said it should have to raise money and prove its value, just like the companies that come through the program.”

In the decade since its launch, CREATE-X has more than proven its value. To date, more than 17,000 students from across 38 majors have participated, and their companies have exceeded $2 billion in total valuation. 

The idea for CREATE-X arose from a question posed to McLaughlin by a student team that had just won the InVenture Prize, Georgia Tech’s innovation competition: “What do we do next?”

McLaughlin realized that while Tech armed students with an exceptional education, it had not provided the infrastructure necessary for students to take their ideas to the marketplace.

According to CREATE-X co-founder and former director Raghupathy “Siva” Sivakumar, who now serves as Georgia Tech’s vice president of Commercialization, “The original vision was to enable our students to create their own jobs and create their own futures.” To that end, Sivakumar and McLaughlin along with others, including fellow faculty at the time Ray Vito and Ravi Bellamkonda, piloted a program in 2014 that laid the foundation for what was to become CREATE-X. Startup Summer, as it was then called, saw eight student teams launch their startups.

Startup Summer served as proof of concept, but it needed funding to take it to the next level. Tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Chris Klaus, Class of 1996, made a significant investment after seeing the fruits of the pilot project, the start of several gifts to the program.

Klaus was the first of several generous donors. “CREATE-X would not have been born without Chris Klaus’ original contribution,” Sivakumar said, “and it wouldn’t have gotten to the scale it is right now without Bernie Marcus.” The Marcus Foundation, Sivakumar noted, has directed essential funding to sustain and expand the program.

In addition to financial support, CREATE-X needed to bring on additional faculty to meet the growing demand for its sequence of courses. After conversations with McLaughlin about the vision for CREATE-X, James G. “Jim” Pope, EE 1965, and his wife Dee established the Pope Faculty Fellows initiative to support four early-career professors to teach and mentor the program’s budding entrepreneurs. After an initial outright commitment in 2019, the couple permanently endowed the faculty fellows the following year and increased the number of fellows to six.

For the Popes, it was the institutional alignment that convinced them to support CREATE-X. “Significant change does not happen without serious leadership at the top, and everyone at Georgia Tech, from the top down, was committed to making entrepreneurship a priority going forward,” said Jim.

But as some student-led companies began demonstrating early success and attracting venture capital, Michael E. Tennenbaum, IE 1958, HON Ph.D. 2016, sought a way to help the founders maintain their upward trajectory. In 2022 and in collaboration with the Georgia Tech Foundation, Tennenbaum established the Tennenbaum Family Investment Fund to invest in promising CREATE-X startups. After recouping its initial outlay, all earnings are deposited into the fund to support even more startups. The fund is a mechanism to help perpetuate the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Tech and Atlanta more broadly.

“We are now starting to see this ripple effect of Georgia Tech startups inspiring and helping other ventures succeed,” said Seth Radman, ME 2017. Since participating in CREATE-X, Radman has founded four startups and sold two of his companies. He has remained engaged with the program by coaching current students. “A lot of Atlanta startups have Georgia Tech connections somewhere. And we are beginning to see angel investments coming in from Georgia Tech founders. I have even written a few checks myself.”

For Klaus, one of the joys of supporting CREATE-X over the last decade is watching the network of Yellow Jacket entrepreneurs grow. “We are reproducing this every day with more and more founders and building a huge community of CREATE-X alums,” he said. “That piece is the multiplier. It begins to compound.”

A few of the notable startups that have come out of the program include supply chain logistics company Stord; habit-change app Reframe; online, project-based high school Sora; digital business card startup dot.card; and maker of automated beverage dispensing technology Sidework.

Another long-term success story is FIXD, the thriving auto diagnostic company that was launched by three Tech undergraduates from CREATE-X’s very first cohort. “CREATE-X is an amazing pipeline for the Atlanta tech ecosystem, not just because of the startups it helps launch but also because of the entrepreneurial talent it generates,” said John Gattuso, ME 2015, FIXD co-founder and CEO. “We have hired multiple CREATE-X founders, and they are some of our most valuable employees.”

Saxena, who came on board as an associate director in 2019 before taking the helm as director in 2023, sees the effects of the program beyond Atlanta. “Georgia Tech was already a top school, and it is increasingly getting national attention for the volume of students graduating with entrepreneurial experience,” he said.

With its rapid growth and success, CREATE-X is ahead of schedule. “Our original goal was to be the No. 1 startup campus in America by 2027,” Sivakumar said, “and in terms of the number of startups launched by students, we are already No. 1.” And other universities across the nation are taking note.

“CREATE-X is awakening the spirit of entrepreneurship in our younger generation at Georgia Tech,” said Bernie Marcus. “The Marcus Foundation is proud to support CREATE-X to grow and inspire a revolution of entrepreneurship on campuses across the country.”

“We are living in the best time ever to be in technology,” Klaus said. For Georgia Tech students, Klaus advises, “Go spend one summer betting on yourself. It’s probably the best bet you can ever make.”

John Lanza, EE 1987, M.S. EE 1988, a partner at the law firm Foley Hoag, has provided pro bono legal counsel to student founders since the launch of CREATE-X. He sees the program as a watershed moment in the Institute’s history. “People are going to look back at CREATE-X and say that this program was part of a transformation that propelled Georgia Tech to change the world.”

To make a gift to CREATE-X, contact Executive Director of Campaign Operations and Institute Strategic Priorities Meagan Burton-Krieger.