ZinnStarter: Igniting the next generation of entrepreneurs

Thank you for your interest in the ZinnStarter program. ZinnStarter’s mission is:

  • To inculcate the next generation of entrepreneurs to create enduring businesses
  • To provide seed money for promising business plans
  • To provide students with the leadership, management and entrepreneurship knowledge of Ray Zinn

Background: What you need to know

About Ray Zinn

Ray Zinn video still

Ray Zinn is the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley. He is legendary for founding a semiconductor company without venture capital, a feat nobody else has even dared.

Ray led his company, Micrel, for 37 years, 36 profitably on a GAAP basis. This track record is astounding for many reasons:

  • The semiconductor business is wildly cyclical, and companies expect deep losses in down cycles.
  • The only unprofitable year was in the wake of the dot-com implosion of the year 2000.
  • That year would have been profitable if it were not for a shut-down and write-down of a duplicate fabrication facility.
  • Even with this write-down, the loss for the year was a mere $50,000.

About Silicon Valley

In “retirement,” Ray is on a mission to export the good parts of Silicon Valley culture, which includes strong biases for:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Disruptive innovation
  • Speed in innovation and commerce
  • Global reach of products
  • Unashamed capitalism

But there are aspects of Silicon Valley that Ray does not wish to export:

  • Blind, unicorn-like revenue growth
  • Inhumane corporate cultures
  • Short-term businesses

About ZinnStarter

ZinnStarter is one arm of Ray’s goal of exporting the positive aspects of Silicon Valley culture to the rest of America. By reaching students in university entrepreneurship programs, Ray intends to impart his experience, encouragement, mentoring and perspective, as well as putting seed money into the pockets of the next Google, Apple, Ford, Walmart or AT&T.

About Tough Things First

The process was initially launched when Ray wrote Tough Things First, his leadership and management manifesto. In Tough Things First, Ray breaks down aspects of the way companies operate, how to manage them successfully, and how to be an effective leader by being a good servant to employees. Tough Things First has received praise from all corners, and a near perfect reader review score on Amazon.

Requirements for participation

The following are the basic requirements to participate in the ZinnStarter program:

  1. Your university must have an entrepreneurial center
  2. Your university will establish a student-led ZinnStarter Board of Directors to implement and manage the program (think of this as early leadership, management and marketing training)
  3. Your university must provide a mentor for every participating team
  4. Your student BOD will report each semester with what they did with the money, and what they consider a success
  5. You will make Tough Things First required reading for the ZinnStarter program, and preferably for your entrepreneur center

The first year

After the first year, providing all requirements are met, your university will be included in a candidate list for an endowment.

A more complete description of ZinnStarter

ZinnStarter is a pro bono program, a donation if you will, only available to universities with an entrepreneur program. It will be used to help fund qualified students who want to learn how to start a company while they are still in school.

It is not to be used as a salary for the student but for the expenses of starting their company. It will be up to the university to insure the money is used wisely and is benefiting the teaching process of entrepreneurism. Virginia Tech was the test case for this program.

Some money could be held back to be used as a contest award for the best performance/use of the funds. Donations to the university and the follow-on funds are HIGHLY dependent on how the funds are used and the effectiveness in promoting entrepreneurism. I hope this helps to explain the program.

How to get started

Email the program administrator at zinnstarter@ToughThingsFirst.com. Include the following information:

  • Name and contact information of the person who will coordinate the ZinnStarter program at your university
  • The year and semester/quarter you plan on launching the program
  • A list of seed/venture competitions in which ZinnStarter students might later participate (winning these competitions is a success measurement)
  • A brief description of the mission and vision of your entrepreneur center


Why a mentor for every team?

Every startup needs a mentor, and Ray cannot individually mentor everyone. Your goal is to find, recruit and assign mentors who can help guide students in the creation of their business plans.

Who can be a team mentor?

That is up to each university. However, your best option is alumni who are either executives or successful entrepreneurs. Mentors need real-world management and leadership experience.

How do we award money to teams?

That will be decided by your student ZinnStarter Board of Directors, with your guidance. What has typically occurred at other schools is that $10,000 seed fund will be spread across several teams, averaging about $500–1,000 per team. It is up to you to devise a method of choosing winning business plans, and to award money in a way that encourages those who have solid plans and viable products.

Does the university get financial help to implement the program?


A short video by SJSU about what ZinnStarter does for student entrepreneurs.

Participating Schools

What Schools Are Saying

“This generous gift significantly enhances our entrepreneurship efforts. Our students now have access to funds that they can use to help develop prototypes, obtain certifications and defray other initial costs that are sometimes barriers to advancing start-up ideas.
—Dr. Dan Moshavi, Dean, Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, San Jose State University

“The Zinnstarter program is perfect for the IDEAS club, as it gives us a platform to fund students with bright ideas and further innovation here at San Jose State University on a much more personal level.”
—Kushal Cuttari, undergraduate student and incoming President of the student-led IDEAS club

“The Ira A. Fulton College is enthusiastic about utilizing the ZinnStarter program. This post-SIOY initiative should be a positive force in assisting entrepreneurial engineering and technology students reach the next level in moving their ideas forward.”
—Jim Trent, Assistant Dean, Brigham Young University

“We are thrilled to offer the ZinnStarter program to our students here at Utah Valley University. This program motivates student entrepreneurs to fine tune their business, present their business plans to other students with the hope of securing a portion of funding to further develop their products and concepts. We find that Ray Zinn’s ability to create a hands-on learning experience with high expectations to learn and apply the basic principles from his book Tough Things First offer a unique opportunity for truly engaged education. It’s also a great platform for launching exciting student business startups.”
—Mark Seastrand, Director – Utah Valley University Entrepreneurship Institute

“By making West Virginia University part of a national network, the ZinnStarter program provides students with opportunities to communicate their business ideas with their fellow students at member universities. The program not only presents a Silicon Valley perspective, but also gives students a chance to be a part of a board that rewards standout ideas in our statewide competition. This propels us to a new level in our quest to help create new companies in West Virginia, which is an important part of a stronger, more diverse economy.”
—Javier A. Reyes, Milan Puskar Dean, West Virginia University College of Business and Economics

“If it wasn’t for ZinnStarter, I would have probably never pursued entrepreneurship and the $500 we received was crucial in getting our startup going.”
—Ali Roghani, ThermaSENSE

“As part of the competition, we were given the opportunity to receive the great book on leadership, Tough Things First, and an additional fund of $2,000 to help us move our company forward. VoixRx is a medication counseling platform that we have developed as an add-on service to allow healthcare providers to counsel each one of their patients in a fast and efficient way. The main purpose of the system is to help provide adequate counseling to patients for a better patient-centered care. We are going to use the Zinn Starter funds for advertising purposes to create awareness among healthcare providers and patients. I would like to thank you and Mr. Ray Zinn for all the contributions to help support our schools and the participants of the competition.”
—Koffi Amegadje, Doctor of Pharmacy / MBA Candidate 2020, Vice President, IPhO, UCSOP Chapter, PSGA Environmental Chair, University of Charleston, School of Pharmacy

“There is no way we could have gotten even this far without Zinnstarter so we will forever be grateful that you made this happen for us.”
—Shariq Shah, ambii (San Jose State University)
ZinnStarter Awardees

ZinnStarter awardee makes Forbes 30 Under 30 list!