Four years ago, a handful of computer science students named one of their department's programs after a rodent.
Chipmark.com is a free, online service that lets users store their Internet bookmarks online and access them from any computer they use.
Computer science professor John Riedl selects each year's 12 class members from a pool of applicants and said more than 20,000 people worldwide use the Web site and software they run.
"The class, in every way possible, is meant to mimic the experience of someone in a startup company running a project for that company," Riedl said. "The goal, over the long term, is to create a cadre of students in Minnesota who are really interested in entrepreneurship."
The class sessions, which total the same number of hours as most three-credit classes, are run by a student leader in a business-meeting style, Riedl said.
Computer science senior and current Chipmark student Derek Janke said this year's class has recently finished planning their course of action.
"We haven't seen any of the challenges yet," he said.
This year's students plan to release an update for the system soon, Janke said. New features could include components that will allow people to better-organize their bookmarks and a Facebook application that would allow users to share their bookmarks with their friends.
"We just got everything organized to the point of getting things done," Janke said.
Past Chipmark graduates have gone on to graduate school or gotten jobs with companies such as Microsoft.
Brian Thompson, a 2006 graduate of the program who works for Seward Inc. in Minneapolis, credited the Chipmark course with giving him experience that landed him his job.
"Chipmark gave me the preparation for the types of things I do every day in my job now," he said. "It's the best course I took at the 'U.' "
Jeff Fisher, who graduated from the University in 2007 and now works for Google, also said Chipmark was an important aspect of his schooling at the University.
"It is probably one of the best computer science courses that we offer in terms of providing real learning experience outside of the textbook-style class," he said.
Fisher said the class's workload was "sizable," but the biggest limitation was the lack of time he had to work on it.
"It's just one class, and it's not a bajillion credits," he said. "It got more intense as the year went on."
Riedl said allowing students to make all the major decisions delivers a truly student-run business to Chipmark's users.
"My role is advisory," he said. "I help steer them and help them avoid really bad decisions that I know about from past experiences."
He said the Web site can support more than 10 times as many users as it does now, and credits the software's programming to his students' leadership.
"My favorite thing is that every year, most of the students who graduate tell me this was their greatest educational experience at Minnesota," he said. "That's the goal, to make it special for students and to give them a leg up so they can become leaders out in the industry."