Entrepreneur Centers on College Campuses: Fad or Necessity?
Part 1 in a two-part series
Entrepreneurship and innovation are increasingly popular topics of conversation among higher education officials across the country. Over the last decade, countless higher education institutions have embraced innovation and entrepreneurship as critical to their institutional mission.
Turns out, these programs are incredible vehicles for transforming the undergraduate academic experience. Arguably, these programs in conjunction with a traditional course of study, are better preparing students for their working lives. Moreover, a number of colleges and universities are discovering the value-added by taking the architecture studio concept and opening it up to a variety of disciplines. The focus is swiftly becoming the space, and what it can bring out in people – breaking down historical silos and creating new partnerships.
Why build an entrepreneurship center on campus?
NAC had the opportunity to talk with individuals from colleges and universities across the country that are involved with successful entrepreneurship programs. Through these conversations, we found that there are three main drivers for having these centers on campus:
Entrepreneurship programs develop in students the skills and mindsets they need for successful lives as scholars and citizens. It’s hard to predict what students will see when they enter the workforce and over their lifetime. Consequently, we need to focus our attention on updating the undergraduate academic experience to adequately prepare our students for anything. That means focusing on experiential learning opportunities, adaptive learning skills, and systems thinking, all of which are inherent to entrepreneurial learning experiences (which are grounded in theories of design thinking, lean startup and agile development).
Emre Toker, Managing Director of the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University in St. Louis, describes the usefulness of an entrepreneurship curriculum. “Entrepreneurship is a great vehicle for preparing our students to succeed in an innovative environment. Through entrepreneurship, students must test their limits because, as you know, entrepreneurship requires you to test your analytical intelligence as well as your creative, social, and practical intelligence.”
Skills commonly developed through an entrepreneurial project include: comfort with ambiguity, ability to find and solve complex problems, empathy for others, and grit.
- Entrepreneurship programs and centers are a great means for translating science into impact. Strong entrepreneurial programs at universities help accelerate the transition of research innovations, seamlessly moving from the lab to the marketplace. Furthermore, advances in a variety of fields are making clear the value of applying discoveries and approaches as widely as possible. Oftentimes government agencies can slow the development of interdisciplinary advances since they solicit grant proposals in field-specific categories. Entrepreneurship centers that co-locate faculty with industry professionals may be able to circumvent these roadblocks.
- Entrepreneurship centers create opportunities for universities to play a role in the economic and social development of their local community. Over one-third of the 1,250 business incubators in the United States are at a college or university . Through industry partnerships, universities are finding new ways to contribute long-term societal benefits. These partnerships often result in the novel application of scientific discoveries, translating research results into practical knowledge and technological innovations.
Washington University in St. Louis Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation
Brigham Young University Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology
What Space Can Do For You
Research supporting the nonverbal communications link between the physical environment and behavior is well established; spaces send signals to people reminding them which behaviors are accepted and which are not. Intentionally designed spaces are able to elicit certain behaviors from people, in turn fostering particular experiences. The right space can positively punctuate the equilibrium of a project or team, creating a shift in thinking.
Entrepreneurship centers are adept at:
- Sparking conversations, putting the focus on process rather than product.
- Encouraging the exchange of ideas across disciplines.
- Mimicking some of the careers students will pursue after graduation.
- Attracting outside businesses and investors, creating unique and opportune partnerships with faculty and students.
- Accelerating the transition of research to the marketplace.
So what’s common to these settings that enable them to achieve these results over and over again?
University of Houston Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship
Lessons Learned: Facility Design
While there is no singular formula for what these spaces look like, these lessons learned from some of the top programs in the country can help direct facility design:
From academia’s perspective, it is clear to see that the tenets of entrepreneurship programs are key to updating the undergraduate academic experience. From interdisciplinary problem solving to creating partnerships with outside businesses and investors, entrepreneurship centers prepare students for life after graduation.
Considering the importance of the strong relationship between industry and education, NAC is interested in hearing industry professionals’ opinions on these centers, and the role they may play in preparing students to enter our progressive, global economy. Stay tuned for a follow-up to this post, where we talk to representatives from companies that are on the forefront of innovation, to see what they have to say!
Thank You to Our Interviewees!