The workshop began with three talks that set the stage for the discussions to follow.
At the evening reception before the workshop, Herbert Holden Thorp, provost of Washington University in St. Louis, spoke on “Building a Culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.” He stated that universities can play a significant role in educating for innovation and thus promote economic development. At the same time, it is important to understand a university’s limitations. Local communities may expect universities to spawn startups; such expectations have to be recognized and managed. Universities don’t really have venture capital, and if they are averse to risk they will be less inclined to support faculty- or student-led startup efforts. Universities need to plan and strategize based on the amount and type of risk they can accommodate.
Thorp also emphasized the value of integrating different fields/areas/communities in the university environment. For example, social entrepreneurship is important to universities, so social and technical entrepreneurs should work collaboratively. And in teaching, professors and alumni entrepreneurs should be teamed to bridge the gap between those worlds. He cited the University of North Carolina’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (a component of its MBA program), but cautioned against “burying” entrepreneurship education in the business school.
In closing, he called for broadening the entrepreneur concept to social entrepreneurship and reiterated the value of team teaching to ensure cross-disciplinary engagement.
The following morning Steering Committee Chair Arden L. Bement, Jr., director emeritus of the Global Policy Research and Global Affairs Office at Purdue University, opened the workshop with a reminder of the national importance of innovation, quoting President Obama in a 2009 speech on the economy1:
1 These remarks are cited in the report A Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Toward Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs (National Economic Council, 2009); available at www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/nec/StrategyforAmericanInnovation. The complete speech is available at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/05/AR2009080502067.html#.
The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in innovation. Today, the competition is keener; the challenge is tougher; and that is why innovation is more important than ever. It is the key to good, new jobs for the 21st century. That’s how we will ensure a high quality of life for this generation and future generations. With these investments, we’re planting the seeds of progress for our country and good-paying, private-sector jobs for the American people.
The most rapid and long-term returns accrue when innovation is integrated with the education and training of graduate and undergraduate STEM talent, but the United States can do much better by specifically focusing on educating the future workforce to be innovative. Bement said that the power to innovate lies in everyone, and that academic environments can be designed to enhance this ability in their students by fostering a culture of creativity and innovation, points made by a number of the interviewed innovators.
As entrepreneurship programs become globally ubiquitous, the United States will need to ensure superior capacity to innovate to maintain its leadership in the global economy.
C. D. Mote, Jr., president of the National Academy of Engineering, described his “Vision for Universitywide Innovation and Entrepreneurship.” The primary goals are to inspire and value and to emphasize education and practice.
Mote began by noting that solutions to the country’s most critical problems depend on innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) and that both types of endeavor enhance research. He made the case that universities have a role in supporting such endeavors by developing a culture of I&E and outlined broad steps to guide universities in this area:
- make I&E education and practice a signature feature of the entire university, create a culture everyone can be part of;
- develop I&E education and practice initiatives spanning the university;
- create a hybrid center for innovation and entrepreneurship (CIE), partly decentralized and partly centralized; and
- put some money into it.
Innovative thinking should be an expectation of the university community and all students should be exposed to it early in their university experience, through a variety of educational formats and delivery methods. Mote articulated inputs and outputs for CIE educational programs.
Inputs entail courses and modules on business, entrepreneurship, communications, law, creativity, and innovation provided through degree programs, experiential education, industry mentors, partnerships, and internships. Mentoring, counseling, and consulting services that facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship are necessary CIE responsibilities; in fact, Mote cited mentoring as absolutely critical, and good mentors and access to them integral for the successful implementation of this vision.
Outputs would be measured by degrees/certificates, efficacy in business, and entrepreneurial skills, and recognized in the commercialization of ideas, the development of business plans and industrial partnerships, and competitions, challenges, and prizes. Achievement measures are critical to monitor progress and success.
CIE practice programs should be designed to support technology transfer, industry-university agreements, new venture creation, and startup activity. They should be characterized by centralized services, research, development of business plans, and mentoring and vetting. Outputs can be measured in patents, licensing revenues, formal/informal industry relationships, the hiring of student inventors, the number and financial success of startups, and jobs created.
Universitywide participation in innovation and entrepreneurship should be inspired, supported, and welcomed. CIE services and programs would be accessible to all campus units, not specific to a single unit.
Mote presented examples of such programs at the University of Maryland, where he was president from 1998 to 2010. Based on his experience, he offered specific recommendations for a university-based center for innovation and entrepreneurship:
- It should be a point of contact for I&E education, tech commercialization, and venture creation, with a convenient, central location on campus. Incorporating existing university services, the CIE should build and support a culture of I&E, with, for example, the capacity for licensing and “prospecting.” Centrally integrated services, where possible, will minimize redundancy, enhance quality, and, most importantly, increase access.
- The university should create a signature hybrid design for I&E, to encourage and celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship, produce value (e.g., patents, licenses, and ventures), and adopt best-in-class ideas. Ensuring that the university community understands intellectual property and related issues (e.g., patents, invention disclosures, licenses) is a CIE responsibility.
- The wider community should be considered in terms of both impacts and engagement. The center should capitalize on its location and engage pre-university and other community partners as mentors, teachers, students, employers, and investors.
- The CIE director should report to the university president, operating through an executive committee and guided by both an external and a university advisory council. At the University of Maryland the external advisory council brought community visibility. Achievement measures for the CIE investment are required, together with benchmarking and regular updating.
- The starting point for such plans would be conversations to introduce the I&E vision to the university, development of business and implementation plans, and determination of budgets and timelines. Such conversations must be led by the president, who is the only person who can “clear away the brush” that can get in the way of a smooth transition to this new paradigm.
In summary, universities should brand themselves as a place for innovation, help create new enterprises, facilitate the transfer of knowledge and technology beyond the university, and make a determined effort to make intellectual property protection less onerous.
The workshop concluded with a plenary session that featured reports from each breakout group and a presentation by Thomas Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He stressed the importance of encouraging students to set and meet more ambitious goals, giving them greater autonomy, connecting them to real-world problems, and involving them in designing courses and university programs, including collaborations with external partners. Established programs such as the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program and NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program can serve as models. He also suggested developing case studies and playbooks based on the successful models. Beyond this workshop and resulting monograph, he called for additional products such as a report making a strong case to various stakeholders to invest in programs designed to educate to innovate. He closed by mentioning the opportunities around open educational resources and the importance of organizing them to inspire students and get them excited about working on difficult problems.