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University conferences aim to win with entrepreneurship

September 20, 2018
By: Ellen Marrison

A new platform to match promising start-ups with experienced business executives, investors and startup mentors from participating school’s alumni ranks is reporting momentum. Following a year of development, the University of Kentucky last month announced the launch of the Southeast Executives-on-Roster (XOR) and the Midwest Executives-on-Roster (XOR) platforms, collaborations between regionally-partnered universities to broaden access to experienced entrepreneurial talent and match that talent to university-affiliated startups in need of executive management. SSTI learned more about the program through interviews with two of the universities involved.

Ian McClure, director of the University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization, said he raised the idea for the collaboration during the annual meetings of the SEC Technology Transfer Directors and the Ohio Valley Affiliates for Life Sciences (OVALS). He noted that universities have challenges matching startups with experienced entrepreneurs who can help manage them and he found interest high among the universities at the meetings to join a talent-matching platform.

The program differs from existing Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) programs that are focused on mentorship and coaching. Instead, McClure likened the XOR program to a job board that matches interested parties. Negotiations are completed outside of the platform and no confidential material is released on the site.

McClure said the platforms are regional because the recruitment of talent is easier with entrepreneurs that have a relationship to the region through a university. He also said the Midwest and Southeast regions of the country need the access to talent more than Boston or San Francisco, which already have large existing networks.

The Southeast XOR is a collaboration between 14 Southeastern Conference (SEC) universities and the Midwest XOR includes 11 Midwest universities. Wellspring, a technology transfer and technology scouting software company that was a spinout of Carnegie Mellon University, developed the software platform. The participating universities each pay a fee to maintain the platform, but then are free to utilize the resources to match the startups with vetted entrepreneurs that have applied to the program.

Ohio State University joined the Midwest XOR platform. Zachary Ellis Jr., the director of new ventures for OSU’s corporate engagement office, said he believes the extended networks will benefit both startups and entrepreneurs. “Our hope is that we can discover more entrepreneurs for our tech startups to have greater opportunities due to tapping into the extended networks,” Ellis said. The XOR program “addresses gaps on both sides of the equation.”

Calling McClure a “master networker,” Ellis said that all universities “between the coasts” are interested in leveraging one another’s networks. However, he believes keeping the networks regional will be beneficial to all the parties.

“The ‘regionality’ will play out its own advantage due to network density,” Ellis said. “The close proximity of the universities and cities involved give it an advantage.”

So far, the program has been well received, Ellis said.

“The program was born to address the fact that many universities have opportunities that they couldn’t fill with their entrepreneur network,” he said. “This provides greater opportunity and resources for all those participants.”

Interested parties may access the platforms through an application and qualification process.

higher ed, entrepreneurship, startups