How To Foster Faculty Entrepreneurship

I just led a four-day intensive workshop for university professors, here at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. We grouped professors in teams, and guided them through the entrepreneurship process in just four days! It’s so intense that it’s known as the “boot camp.”

The workshop was created in 2009, by Professor Holden Thorp. At that time he led the university as the Chancellor, so he was in a position to make something happen. The workshop was inspired by research Thorp did for his 2010 book Engines of Innovation. His research showed that universities drive economic growth; they’re hotbeds of new ideas and research. But the research also showed that the full potential of university research wasn’t being realized, because so many researchers don’t know how to develop their ideas into real businesses.

  • They don’t know how to think about customer needs, or about how to create value for customers.
  • They don’t know how to think about strategy, competition, and market advantage.
  • They don’t know how to leverage partnerships, or to develop new relationships with non-academics who have important skills they’ll need to be successful.

In short, university professors don’t know how to think like entrepreneurs. And that’s where our workshop comes in: to help professors develop the entrepreneurial mindset. We’re blessed to have the strong support and commitment of Chancellor Carol Folt, and that’s why the workshop was officially called “The Chancellor’s Faculty Entrepreneurship Boot Camp.”

We organized the workshop around six key skills associated with successful entrepreneurs:

  • Innovate: How to generate good new ideas and identify promising challenges and problems
  • Listen: How to understand customers and how they perceive value
  • Plan: How to think strategically, to spot unique opportunities and potential competition and challenges
  • Clarify: How to think in detail about the value being created for customers, and how to communicate that quickly in a pitch
  • Support: How to develop networks and relationships to move your idea along
  • Iterate: Using the lean process, with frequent pivots and zigzags, to build your business

We had participants from 14 of the 17 UNC system campuses, a full range of institutional types: art schools, engineering schools, medical schools, HBCUs. We even had a participant from the system’s residential high school for high-talent science and math students.

The average participant evaluation was 4.8 out of 5.0, so we know the participating faculty got a lot out of the workshop. And, it proves that our core lessons apply not just to flagship research universities, like UNC Chapel Hill, but to all higher education. Next year, I think we’re ready to open this up to universities around the country. What do you think?

Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at UNC

I have some exciting news: I’m moving to a new faculty position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I will be the Morgan Distinguished Professor of Educational Innovation, in the School of Education. Readers of this blog know that “educational innovation” is exactly what I study, so this new position is a wonderful match!

In addition to joining the learning sciences program, my first responsibility will be to create a new master’s degree program in Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Here’s an excerpt from the job description:

The new professor will provide leadership in studying, designing, and developing new innovations. He or she will work with students, faculty, and the School and University leadership to create programs of study and forge collaborative partnerships among the academy, industry, government, and the schools.

In particular, the successful applicant will lead an interdisciplinary graduate program designed to help transform education by creating synergies among three elements: innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Goals of this program include creating a new generation of educational innovators and entrepreneurs and encouraging designs of sustainable organizational forms that promote educational renewal and change.

There’s no existing program like the one envisioned here, and I’m really excited about this opportunity to make a difference in education, both in North Carolina and at a national level.  If you work in educational innovation, technology, or entrepreneurship, please contact me, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And stay tuned to this blog…I may take a break for a couple of months this summer while I move to North Carolina and get settled, but starting in September things will begin to move fast.