Future Shock: New Engines of Entrepreneurial Startup

All over America, universities are creating on and off campus business incubators, product development accelerators, and startup launchpads to educate and train the next generation of innovative entrepreneurs.
By: | Issue: December, 2015
December 7, 2015

Have you ever wondered why experts like Forbes and Bloomberg estimate that between 80-90 percent of entrepreneurial initiatives fail? American higher ed surely has, and universities are now investing in startups by connecting them to business incubators, product development accelerators, and other higher education-based launchpads. As small business entrepreneurs, we observed early on that many of our cohorts from college retreated to their campus caves (i.e. dorms) to go it alone – typically a bad decision. These incubators, accelerators, and launchpads provide business and professional consulting, advisory, research data services, bricks and clicks capacity, and importantly, an entrepreneurial environment where ingenuity thrives on 24/7 ideation, product development, and clinical testing.   

Beyond watching Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank tear apart aspiring entrepreneurs, startup owners need to study prospective partners and leverage their real-world product value proposition to optimize return on investment (ROI), return on learning (ROL), and return on scholarship (ROS). Too often, young entrepreneurs fail to put the shoe on the other foot and look at the world through the eyes of their business partner.  

At the end of the day, small business entrepreneurs need to have pride of ownership in their ideas and believe in themselves because without that confidence many young entrepreneurs crash and burn.  

For its part, higher ed needs to encourage, indeed incentivize, risk taking, and provide the kind of business environment that inspires young entrepreneurs.  

Sensing that there was a deeper story to tell, we conducted our own launch pad search from coast to coast. What we found was that there are a significant number of innovative higher ed business incubators. At Stanford, we learned about the d.school which focuses on design, entrepreneurship, and management training. The d.school has created state of the art technologies and mobile apps over the past decade.  

Looking to the Midwest, we took special note of the University of Michigan-Flint’s announcement of the new Hagerman Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation – a unique entrepreneurial business accelerator and launchpad. This important venture coincides with the opening of the University’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management program. The Center provides multi-disciplinary and inter-professional linkages for the promotion of business startups. In its early development, the Hagerman initiative will provide students and faculty with a varied array of business tools including product design, technology utilization, market research, and other financial, management, and marketing skills.

We learned from Michigan-Flint School of Management Dean Scott Johnson that contemporary business education is proactively integrating entrepreneurial studies into the core curriculum. Dean Johnson reports that the University looks “at entrepreneurship as a mindset, how we can improve processes, how we can do things differently. It’s not necessarily about starting a new business”. Toward this end, the University hosts the Innovation Incubator which gives local entrepreneurs and small business owners a real opportunity to develop their companies with dedicated workspace and support resources.  

Heading South, we learned that just last year Texas Christian University created the IdeaFactor launchpad where students can use the latest technology and equipment to develop and pitch their ideas in hopes of attracting seed funding. At TCU, Dr. Eric E. Simanek and faculty and staff believe that the IdeaFactor acts like a “switchboard operator, connecting students to experts on campus”.  

Returning back to the East coast, we learned about MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. At the Martin Trust Center, a full spectrum of academic disciplines are key to network creation, experimentation, and team building – crucial to creating leading edge products and services.

Looking forward, higher ed needs to bolster these business startups with strong industry connections that can promote risk taking, internships, career building, and leadership skills. These futuristic launchpads no longer limit their courses and seminars to just conventional business subjects. Instead, they cast a large net over multiple disciplines in hopes of generating a diversified business portfolio and creating a solid framework for vetting the next generation of young business entrepreneurs.

—James Martin and James E. Samels, Future Shock columnists, are authors of The Provost’s Handbook: The Role of the Chief Academic Officer (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.