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Student entrepreneurs spending summer in Syracuse "Sandbox"

Instead of painting houses or mowing lawns, a group of college students in Syracuse is spending the summer launching companies.

The Student Sandbox incubator just got underway at the Syracuse Tech Garden. And participation is ballooning.

When the program started four years ago, just five teams took part. This year, there are 34 teams. The Tech Garden had to find overflow space to fit everybody.

It's a sign that more college students are interested in entrepreneurship, says John Liddy, the Tech Garden's entrepreneur-in-residence.

Liddy says the entrepreneurs-in-training are becoming more diverse too. More students in visual arts and communications are taking part this year. It's not just for Syracuse University business majors anymore.

The student teams will spend three months getting technical and legal assistance, as well as mentorship from Liddy and other advisers. The program culminates with Demo Day in mid-August.

Learning by doing

Liddy says these types of accelerators weren't around when he was in college. He says starting a business was tougher for his generation.

The key to the Sandbox is setting a high bar.

"We're trying to make sure students understand that it's difficult to start businesses," says Liddy. "But at the same time, the goal is to move the business forward."

Wide-ranging backgrounds have led to an equally wide-ranging spread of companies involved in this year's program.

Students are working on everything from online dating sites to engineering better ways to transport water in developing countries.

"At the end of the day, the common thread is that they're all interested in moving a business forward," says Liddy. "It's not just studying something."