COLLEGEVILLE Ursinus College will establish a center for entrepreneurship to help students develop creative projects that cross disciplines and apply what they are learning on the small, liberal arts campus.

As part of the effort, the 1,600-student Collegeville college will hold a competition in April to encourage students to develop ideas for a marketable product or service, or that address a social problem. The top prize will be $7,500, plus free housing for the summer so students can carry out their projects.

The new center, announced Monday, puts Ursinus among a growing number of colleges to emphasize entrepreneurship.

Drexel University in February announced that it would use a $12.5 million gift to establish a school of entrepreneurship.

Villanova and Bucknell Universities are working with the Kern Entrepreneurial Education Network to help engineering students become more entrepreneurial. Villanova also has a center for innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship that works across the university's colleges.

Temple University and Philadelphia University received $3 million from the Blackstone Group, an investment firm, to foster entrepreneurship.

"We are seeing more and more examples," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. "It's one of the best ways for students to actually apply the concepts and the knowledge they are studying."

At Ursinus, the center - called U-Imagine! The Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies - will open next semester.

April Kontostathis, a computer science professor, began advocating for the center about a year ago when students in her software engineering class developed applications - including one to help patients with severe mental illnesses manage their symptoms - and found no one to help launch and market them.

Liberal arts colleges increasingly want to give their students "a more concrete transitional path between their education and careers," she said.

The center will involve students from all majors, she said.

The new competition, called U-Innovate!, is being funded with a $70,000 gift from trustee Will Abele, an Ursinus alumnus and owner of Henry Troemner L.L.C., a West Deptford manufacturer of laboratory equipment.

The center will bring in guest speakers and retired executives to help students develop their projects, she said.

Bobby Fong, president of Ursinus, said the new center will nurture creativity and originality, qualities he said were essential. "Employers are looking not only for people who can do jobs as they currently exist but who can change as the company changes," he said.