Universities incentivize student and faculty on-campus entrepreneurship

Have you noticed that many innovators leave college early? Or, they begin making their groundbreaking innovations after graduation? Colleges have noted this, too.

The Morrill Act of 1862 granted land and resources for higher educational institutions focused on agricultural and technical studies. These public and land-grant colleges include leading universities focused on research, including the University of California and Pennsylvania State University. In a recently released position paper, these colleges attempt to contribute and remain engaged in a fast-paced economy.  Though their approaches are different, one element that is crucial is supporting university-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

Show Me the Money

Many schools already have policies to pay faculty or students when they make a research breakthrough that is commercialized. Yale, for instance pays 10 percent to inventors after a number of expenses are deducted. One of the main ways to spur entrepreneurial growth in universities is to evaluate these royalty split policies. University innovators are likely to hide key findings when universities take most or all of the royalties from innovations. Low or no royalties cause innovators to either leave their institution or give up their ambitions entirely. By more generously sharing revenues, universities can spur innovation and create a dynamic entrepreneurial spirit.

Similarly, entrepreneurial growth is slowed by traditional “walls” built between departments and even individual professors. One way to break down these walls is the establishment of technology transfer offices. These offices increase institutional capacity to turn discoveries into market-ready products. They can also make donors aware of university opportunities for product commercialization, startups, and venture formation. Opening communication within the entire higher educational environment— alumni, management, faculty, and students—encourages cutting edge innovation.

In response to student loan debt, another recommendation is to establish scholarships and financial aid opportunities for student innovators. This will inspire students, who are increasingly aware of the long-term negative effects of student loan debt, to stay in school and innovate. The study also proposes developing internal prizes and endowments to encourage faculty entrepreneurial education and activities. Additionally, universities can incentivize faculty innovation by connecting their accomplishments to promotion and tenure.

Incubate or Perish

Research-focused university campuses should be highly productive incubators for business development resources, according to the paper. It is imperative for universities, which house state of the art research facilities and attract the brightest students and faculty, to be engaged in entrepreneurial efforts to stay relevant and to continue to contribute to the national and global economy.

Turning a university into a makerspace, in which people with shared interests and ambitions work on innovative projects, is necessary as we step forward in the 21st century. Figuring out ways to encourage students, faculty and alumni to work together is the way to build these spaces.  

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