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Freestanding Entrepreneurship Schools, Creative Courses Illustrate Evolving Role of Universities

March 06, 2013

Recent research on the evolving role of universities finds the emergence of an entrepreneurial society has contributed to a broader and more fundamental role for universities — that is to provide thinking, leadership and activity to enhance entrepreneurship capital. University-based entrepreneurship programs and initiatives seem to have gained steam following the recession with federal support for programs to enhance entrepreneurial efforts in states and regions and increased interest from students and out-of-work individuals. Freestanding entrepreneurship schools and creative programming to encourage risk taking are two recent examples of the evolving role of universities in the knowledge-driven economy.

In From the Entrepreneurial University to the University for the Entrepreneurial Society, author David B. Audretsch argues that what distinguishes the entrepreneurial university from the role of the university in the entrepreneurial society is the scope of its mission. While the role of the entrepreneurial university is to create new businesses, ventures and commercialization where it previously did not exist, or to increase the amount of tech transfer from the university to the private sector and nonprofit firms, the role of the university in the entrepreneurial society is to provide leadership for creating entrepreneurial thinking, actions and institutions, according to the author. Thus, the university contributes by enabling individuals to thrive in this environment.

Foundations led by successful entrepreneurs are leading the charge for colleges and universities to facilitate freestanding schools of entrepreneurship. The most recent example is a $12.5 million donation to Drexel University from a distinguished alumnus to establish the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship. The university says it will be one of a very small number of freestanding schools in the nation and the only one in Philadelphia.

Much like the goals of the university in the entrepreneurial society outlined in Audretsch's paper, the Close school aims to position entrepreneurship not just as a technical process of launching new companies, but as a set of personal and professional skills that foster the pursuit of innovation in business, personal and career context. Last fall, a Bradley University alumnus endowed a similar freestanding school for entrepreneurship and innovation in Peoria, IL, with curriculum designed to give students tools and applied experiences to be successful entrepreneurs.

Building on the concept of entrepreneurship as an experience, some schools are developing creative approaches to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and risk taking, such as courses that let students earn academic credit for startup activities with the underlying goal of increasing tech commercialization and new company formation.

For example, a new course offered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory allows computer science and engineering students to earn credit while turning their ideas into tech-based startups with help in the form of access to capital and mentorship. The course will help students through the process of starting a company with guidance from successful venture capitalists, including representatives from Google Ventures, Greylock Partners and Matrix Partners.

A proposed flipped semester at The University of Michigan that would allow students to take part in self-directed entrepreneurial projects while earning academic credits is another example of the broader role universities play in the knowledge-based economy. Proposed by a group of students within the Entrepreneurship Commission of the Central Student Government, the program would enroll up to 50 students in a student learning community with oversight provided by eight to 10 professors with entrepreneurial experience, reports The Michigan Daily. The hope is to place students in an environment conducive to risk taking in order to support activities such as starting a company or even recording an album or filming a movie, the article states. The group is still working to gain approval from university administrators.

Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvaniahigher ed, entrepreneurship