How to Create Entrepreneurial Universities

MARCH 26, 2015
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Big challenges require big solutions and few institutions are better suited to create them than global research universities. Unfortunately, there are few truly entrepreneurial universities. Yes, most have technology transfer offices. Yes, most have a mission of research, service, education, and patient care. Yes, most see themselves as innovative. But, when it comes to reaching beyond and creating impact in society, few hit the mark.

As my coauthor and I noted in a previous article, academic entrepreneurship refers to the variety of ways in which academics go beyond the production of potentially useful knowledge. They undertake a range of initiatives to facilitate the commercialization of that knowledge, or become participants in designing new marketable products and assume a leadership role in ensuring successful commercialization of these products. Academic entrepreneurship is different from both entrepreneurship education and entrepreneurship training. Entrepreneurship education is usually defined in broad terms as the building of knowledge and skills ‘about’ or ‘for the purpose of’ entrepreneurship generally, as part of recognized education programs at primary, secondary, or tertiary-level educational institutions; entrepreneurship training is interpreted as the building of knowledge and skills in preparation for starting a business.

Academic entrepreneurship, in contrast, is a feature of universities that do much more than impart entrepreneurship education and training, or excel at technology transfer practice and metrics. Based on the US and European experience, universities may be considered entrepreneurial when they are not afraid to maximize the potential for commercialization of their ideas and create value in society without seeing this as a threat to academic values. They create a culture of innovation on their campuses and attempt to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in every graduate and faculty member by building the structure and processes designed for stimulating innovation and value in the marketplace.

Entrepreneurial universities have several key features: (i) top-down vision, strategy, and leadership; (ii) clearly defined entrepreneurship learning objectives that drive the curriculum; (iii) robust internal and external networks; (iv) a culture of innovation; and (v) experiential learning and knowledge transfer opportunities.

Here are 10 things universities should do to transform themselves:

1. Fix their technology transfer offices or outsource the function.

2. Give faculty promotion and tenure recognition for innovative and entrepreneurial accomplishments.

3. Eliminate practice plan taxes and policies that discourage faculty-industry collaboration.

4. Create an internal seed stage fund.

5. Hold every student accountable for demonstrating an entrepreneurial mindset.

6. Hire, develop, and promote for innovation.

7. Lead innovation.

8. Celebrate innovation champions and mentor those who are interested in emulating them.

9. Transform donations into investments.

10. Hire outsiders who think convergently.

Entrepreneurial universities and academic medical centers are the answer to the changes in higher education and health care threatening their very existence. They need to stop trying to change the models, but, instead, make them obsolete by innovating. To do that, they need entrepreneurial faculty.



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