Universities can boost their entrepreneurial ecosystems

PALO ALTO, California – September 2, 2015 – In her recent blog post, Victoria Matthew of Epicenter, an organization that supports academic entrepreneurship and innovation, offers universities a series of steps to help grow their entrepreneurial ecosystems. “The ‘secret sauce’ solution doesn’t exist. Every school is unique,” Matthew writes. But after speaking with faculty and administrators from across the country, she identified nine key things universities can do to help spread innovation and entrepreneurship on their campuses.

  1. Identify and empower faculty champions. A charismatic faculty champion can use his or her enthusiasm to lead and boost the entrepreneurial spirit of the university. “The discipline they come from isn’t as important as the passion, energy and charisma they bring,” says Matthew. “The more disciplines and diverse backgrounds involved, the better.”

  2. Tap into student interest and energy. More and more students are showing an interest in entrepreneurship and innovation. This gives universities the opportunity to engage students in all parts of the process, from customer discovery to promoting events and programming. “No one understands student needs better than students,” Matthew writes. “They are your secret weapon to designing and scaling your programming.”
  3. Centralize your efforts. A centralized innovation and entrepreneurship office helps cut through potential bureaucracy and promotes interdisciplinarity among both faculty and students.
  4. Celebrate student successes. “Students do amazing, entrepreneurial things on campus and in the world,” says Matthew. Universities can highlight these accomplishments to encourage other students and faculty to enter the innovation realm.
  5. Choose your words carefully. The very words “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” can mean different things to different people. For some, they might sound foreign to their own interests, or even intimidating. Maybe “creativity” or “design” would resonate better, depending on the student body’s general likes and interests.
  6. Collaborate with the off-campus ecosystem. Local entrepreneurs and investors are often willing to serve as advisors, mentors, guest speakers and donors to university entrepreneurship ecosystems. “However, don’t lose sight of the passions and pursuits of students and faculty in favor of industry projects and goals,” Matthew warns. “Strike a balance between these two potentially competing forces.”
  7. Work with campus leadership. Most campus leaders want to promote retention and the training of students for the workforce. Innovation and entrepreneurship significantly contributes to this and could easily be integrated into the campus mission, vision, and tenure and promotion criteria.
  8. Consider your context. Depending on your university, incorporating innovation could happen through required courses, electives or extracurricular activities. On the other hand, you could focus more on collaborating with the off-campus ecosystem. “Immerse yourself in understanding the many possibilities and various best practices,” advises Matthew.
  9. Leverage research findings. Use evaluation and research from your own campus as well as from universities across the country to determine what practices have contributed the most to building a successful innovation and entrepreneurship community. Matthew lists the Journal of Engineering Entrepreneurship, ASEE conference proceedings and VentureWell’s Open conference proceedings, for example.

[by David Schwartz - Tech Transfer eNews Blog]

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