Universities are our Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Everyone is looking for them. We have them already… They function pretty well. My recent paper: The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem. From the abstract:

One question that immediately comes to mind when studying ecosystem performance is what the proper unit of analysis is: the country, the state, the city, the region, or something smaller, like an incubator or accelerator? This paper suggests that the open, innovative American frontier that closed at the end of the 20th century has reemerged in the entrepreneurial economy on the U.S. campus. The contemporary campus entrepreneurial ecosystem offers the characteristics of Turner’s frontier: available assets, liberty and diversity while creating opportunity, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. A case study of the University of Chicago explores governance of the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem and the output produced by that campus ecosystem.

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Google Employee Manifesto Continues Diversity Debate in Silicon Valley

One of the reasons that I argue the university is the best entrepreneurial ecosystem is that it has a diverse collection of people — diverse across multiple variables (life stage, place of origin, field of study, political persuasion, home country/state, full time v part time, etc).

This diverse population (when combined with available assets and liberty/freedom) leads the drive for change, creativity, innovation, production and commerce – in today’s world – entrepreneurship.

As the debate over diversity in Silicon Valley continues and grows — questions and definitions of diversity have been raised. Most recently by a Google engineer offering a manifesto criticizing the company’s diversity effort. From Matthew Lynley at TechCrunch:

A screed from a Googler against the company’s diversity policies appears to be circulating internally at the company, according to Gizmodo, which has published the memo.

Motherboard first reported on the existence of the document making the rounds, which Googlers condemned on Twitter. In it, the author of the “manifesto” appears to try to argue that the gender gap in technology is not a product of discrimination — but rather inherent biological differences between men and women in general.

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes,” the memo states at the beginning as published by Gizmodo. “When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.”

Update: It looks like Motherboard has an internal response from Danielle Brown, Google’s new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. Here’s part of what she says, according to Motherboard:

“Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.”

Brown also says that document is “not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages,” according to Motherboard.

There is no doubt there is a lot that corporations and other large organizations could learn from diversity as it exists on university campuses — the kind that takes place day to day in classes, coffee shops, dorm rooms, labs, sports teams, bands and clubs, departments, and more. As my research argues, this diverse environment (with thousands pursuing their unique paths), leads to the creative, productive output and American research universities are lauded for.

Figuring out America’s Character

As we enter the hot summer months and I push deeper into research around the great American Research University, notions of national systems and character continue to play a role. Much of my work uses Frederick Jackson Turner and his frontier theory — see my recent paper on Universities and entrepreneurial ecosystems here; SSRN version here).

people_plentyOf late, I’ve been reading David Potter’s People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character. Not sure how I found it, but it affirms my interpretation of Turner, and offers amazing insights into the creation of any ‘national character’ – most often determined by culture according to Potter. (Culture of course is determined by countless things — natural environment, religion, economy, class structure, etc). Potter’s central thesis that it is abundance (an a culture of abundance) that has created the national character of the US.

David Potter’s work has been helpful as I continue to try to better understand the American system of higher education, but as importantly, it makes me wonder about contemporary American Character and what role abundance has played in today’s america — from the presidency to high growth figuring out every conceivable way to deliver me materials/digital goods — think Amazon and Whole Foods.

America is totally befuddling at this time, and appears to be broken into a many pieces of separate reality with snippets of digital content (tweets, videos, jpgs) representing other human beings. I hope by the time I finish Potter my thoughts/interpretations will make more sense.

More to come as this summer of research continues.

 

Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: the University of Chicago

Even though the University of Chicago does not have a school of engineering, it has become a leading startup university. Groupon, GrubHub, Braintree Financial and other high growth, student created firms have come of of the University of Chicago in recent years and the end is nowhere in site.

Check out my new paper: The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: the University of Chicago to learn more about Chicago and how the US campus has become the hottest entrepreneurial ecosystem around. Here is a snippet:

In March 2016, Forbes Magazine released its list of the world’s billionaires. Simply perusing the 100 richest people in the world suggests that student entrepreneurs from US colleges and universities have impacted the world as much as any cohort on the list. The outsized impact of students that began the firm formation process on campus is glaring. Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, is #1 in the world, with Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook at #6 while the Google founders come in at #12 and #13 (“The World’s Billionaires,” 2016). Just a short leap away is Phil Knight of Nike at #24 and Michael Dell at #35 with Paul Allen, who left Microsoft in the early 1980s after co-founding the firm with Gates, at #40 spot globally (“The World’s Bilionaires,” 2016). There are many others on the list that trace their wealth to student created firms at US universities. While there is a diversity of founders and fields of studies from a range of years and universities, their ventures were begun on a campus entrepreneurial ecosystem in the US.

 

The Campus as Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

I am in the midst of writing a paper that explores the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Much of the preliminary work, thinking, and formation of this idea took place while I completed my PhD. Here is the work in all its glory: Campus as Frontier: High Growth Student Startups at US College and Universities.

And here is a snippet regarding looking beyond PhD and lab science for innovators on campus:

Policy makers should consider Jefferson’s radical idea of offering choice for undergraduates in 1819 or Van Hise’s plan to provide educational resources to fishermen in Minocqua, Wisconsin as well as researchers in Madison at the main campus of University of Wisconsin. In both historical examples, leaders attempted to bring the assets and opportunities of the universities to individuals, allowing them to make the university work for them and their problems.  

The challenge for policymakers is to craft policies and structures supporting small scale projects by non-research oriented innovators such as MBA candidates and undergraduate music majors, instead of targeting their attention and resources on faculty winning federal grants. There is no doubt that Vannevar Bush’s shadow is long and wide and emerging from it will take concerted efforts for university and policy leaders.

Yes, I am arguing that University leaders and policy makers are looking in the wrong places for innovation and entrepreneurship on campus — chasing lab led science and big ‘innovation’ building projects such as tech centers or innovation zones (always funded with ‘public’ money) instead of the bottom up innovation and entrepreneurship that my dissertation uncovers.

Any thoughts or feedback or criticism?

Facebook Offers Outlet to University Researchers

According to recent reports, Facebook is making funding available to the most creative researchers at the most elite universities, basically offering a potential of breaking the bureaucratic log jam the is involved in much of the research funding universe. Ideally this type of initiative will look beyond the usual suspects (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc) as the company itself had to look well beyond elite university students to grow.

From USAToday,

Facebook’s secretive lab Building 8 has signed a collaboration deal with 17 universities to speed up the research cycle for hardware and software.

Building 8, headed by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency chief and Google executive Regina Dugan, has entered into a “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement.”  That means Facebook can get new research projects launched in weeks, bypassing the nine to 12 months it usually takes, Dugan said in a Facebook post

This is just another example of the most innovative firms (often with roots on the campus) are going back to the campus to find creators, innovators and entrepreneurs.

 

Cupid’s Cup 2016 | @UofMaryland @UnderArmour #KevinPlank

In completing my research on high growth ventures created by students the case of Kevin Plank (Under Armour) and the University of Maryland was part of my data collection and highlights many of the ideas uncovered. Cupid’s Cup, the annual business competition sponsored by Plank and Under Armour, completed its final round Thursday April 7 on the campus of the University of Maryland. (At the time of this post you could watch the event here)

As usual, the finals featured a passionate speech by Plank and an awesome, psyche up video by Under Armour. Plank’s message about Under Armour and his vision for Baltimore are big (backed by investment on the Baltimore waterfront — see the plans for Port Covington). I would not doubt this guy and his team. Btw, I must confess I bought Under Armour stock ($UA) a number of years ago and have been pleased with their performance.

The judges for the final round included Plank, Arianna Huffington, Dan Gilbert and Wes Moore — truly an accomplished group across a variety of fields/industries.

The 6 presenting finalists were – Javazen, Plova Chewing Gum, Wolf & Shepherd, MyBestBox, SixFoods and Headbands of Hope. The winner was Javazen – the hybrid green tea and coffee drink developed by students at the University of Maryland.

Headbands of Hope creates headbands for kids undergoing cancer treatment; mybestbox is a monthly subscription box promoting healthier lifestyles, Plova gum cleans your teeth between brushings, Six Foods makes bug chips that kids seem to like, and Wolf & Shepherd make dress shoes that perform like athletic shoes.

Nice diversity of ventures, all generating revenue and entering vibrant markets and making impact. Look for more from these teams. Coverage of the Kevin Plank’s Cupid Cup in the Balitmore Business Journal. For the official Cupid’s Cup website.