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Courtnee Futch

With all of $6.14 in her bank account and too much pride to call her parents for money, Courtnee Futch ’15 whipped up a batch of bacon-chocolate Rice Krispies Treats, put the word out on Facebook, and sold out in less than an hour. ThunderCakes—her bakery business—was born. But it was seed funding from the Raymond von Dran IDEA Awards Competition that enabled her to invest in equipment, pay legal fees, and hire interns. Now she’s planning to take her thriving business full time after college.

What I’m studying…

My major is communication and rhetorical studies, with a minor in information technology, design, and startups.

What I do besides study…

I’m the CEO of ThunderCakes, a remote-location bakery that specializes in customized cakes, made-to-order baked goods, and event catering. When I’m not studying or running my business, I enjoy and participate in spoken word, community service, and mentoring. I also belong to a number of organizations for entrepreneurs. I would be lying if I said that maintaining a balance was anything but difficult. I know that it would be easier on me if I paused ThunderCakes’ operations until I graduate, but it’s a painful thought. I also know I could focus more on the business if my course load wasn’t so intensive. It’s nothing if not stressful, but I know that one day, I’ll be able to focus solely on Thundercakes, and I keep that in mind as I work toward my degree.

Why I chose Syracuse University…

I always say that I didn’t choose Syracuse. Syracuse chose me. As a high school senior, I applied to schools all along the East Coast. But 10 days before the application deadline, my mother met a member of the Syracuse University Alumni Association Board of Directors, who asked if I’d be interested in applying to SU. I submitted my application the next day. In the meantime, I did research on the school, asked my counselors for their thoughts, and spoke to the parents of students from Atlanta. When I got accepted, I knew without a doubt that this was where I wanted to be. I didn’t even see the school until I moved in, and I’ve been in love ever since.

What I love most about it…

I love the diversity. And not just the demographic diversity, but the diversity of interests and activities. There’s something for everyone at SU, and I think the students, faculty, and administration are very supportive of that.

What I plan to do with my degree…

I’ll likely go on to obtain my master’s degree in entrepreneurship before I launch ThunderCakes full-time. The communication and rhetorical studies program emphasizes interpersonal relationship building and organization-wide communication, both of which are crucial to the success of any company. With my concentration in entrepreneurship, I can remain vigilant and flexible in an ever-changing marketplace. The two studies combine to provide creative perspective that will apply to any industry.

What SU means to me…

As cliché as it sounds, Syracuse University means the world to me. This is my home. I am constantly surrounded by opportunities, resources, amazing mentors, and countless support systems. I’m not sure I would have found that anywhere else.

What I would say to someone who is thinking about giving…

Do it. I know firsthand all that Syracuse University has to offer to its students and the community. But I’m also very aware that it doesn’t end on campus. The Syracuse legacy has a ripple effect, and it spreads thousands of miles. It’s the future. And your gift is actually an investment.

Ray von Dran:
The Man Behind the IDEA

The late Ray von Dran had energy that was exceeded only by his entrepreneurial vision. As dean of Syracuse University’s iSchool, he presided over a 12-year period of unprecedented growth. The number of faculty and students nearly tripled. Sponsored research increased five-fold. Four of the school’s academic programs earned top-four rankings.

When he announced his decision to step down as dean and return to the faculty, von Dran hoped to help the school create commercial and social enterprises from its research and development work. But it was not to be. He passed away suddenly in July 2007, just one week before his 61st birthday.

Shortly after, his widow, Gisela von Dran, director emerita of the iSchool’s master’s program in library and information science, established the Raymond F. von Dran Fund in his honor. Buoyed by gifts from alumni and other donors, the fund grew quickly.

“Ray embodied the qualities of an innovator,” says Gisela. “He was forward-looking, creative, decisive, ambitious, and, most of all, inspired. He advanced the iSchool and the entire information field by taking calculated risks and standing behind his convictions.” It seemed only fitting, then, that the fund was earmarked for the Student Startup Accelerator, an initiative that helps college students spread their entrepreneurial wings.

Supporting Student Startups

Now called the Raymond von Dran Innovative and Disruptive Entrepreneurship Accelerator—IDEA, for short—the initiative sponsors an annual competition to award seed funding to nonprofit and for-profit student ventures. Students compete by pitching their ideas to judges at a conference that brings them together with entrepreneurs, investors, and organizations with the resources to jump-start student ventures.

Since 2009, more than $650,000 has been awarded to student ventures in a wide range of disciplines, including consumer products, health care, engineering, media, finance, computer science, information management, advertising, real estate, and architecture. The winning teams then work with SU’s entrepreneur-in-residence to take their ideas to the next level.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate initiative to endow in Ray’s memory,” says Gisela von Dran. “The students share the energy, creativeness, and desire to change the status quo that Ray brought to all of his entrepreneurial endeavors. He would be proud to have his name attached to the accelerator.”