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What’s Next for Entrepreneurship Centers?

Ikhlaq Sidhu, Chief Scientist and Founding Director, Sutardja Center | October 17, 2014

State of the E-Art

You may have seen our previously released slide set, “How to Build a Modern Entrepreneurship Center” (here’s a link –  E-Center 2.0 Public-9-2014-Compressed). It’s a pretty good summary of what we have learned so far, based on our past 10 years at UC Berkeley’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (CET).

lights

Here’s the summary in keywords: Stakeholders; Measures; Curriculum Journey; Psychology; Mindset; Role Models; Balanced Message; Ecosystem; Boards; Boot-camps; Challenge-based; Theory; Inductive; Lean; Pivot; Acceleration; Research-Driven Entrepreneurship; and Industry Interfaces. Take a breath, and now let’s move on.

Artificial Limitations

I think all this really begs the question, “What’s Next?” for start-up programs. And as far as we have come, in my opinion, there are still a couple of major aspects that need our attention.

  1. Too obsessed with the very earliest stage. Every class and project continues to focus on getting a group of students together to form an idea, test it with validation, and make a plan for launching it into a market. This is fine as a learning exercise, but it’s highly limiting in terms of opportunities for students and new ventures. It’s a long way from concept to company, and I submit that success rates will always be low if that remains the only path for students to enter the new venture economy.
  1. Too much on-campus focus. How many ventures start from within a university compared to the numbers that start off-campus? It’s just as important for entrepreneurially minded students to affect and become part of the opportunities emerging off-campus as it is to have access to the opportunities on-campus. Even for teaching, can we really ignore the value creation that occurs outside campus grounds? This overly obsessive inward focus is an artificially imposed limitation of many entrepreneurship programs today.

It’s Time to Break Through

I’m not saying today’s models are bad. But let’s brainstorm to add some new ideas to what we already do today.* Here are five examples:

Examples Today The Alternative
Acceleration 2.0 On campus Business Plan competition Competitions for the area’s best projects with opportunities for students to become part of the winning teams (or vice versa)
Catching the Right Wave Students have all the initial ideas Investors and their Entrepreneurs-In-Residence explain their Investment thesis and concepts on campus to reach the right specialists
Translated Research Research student try to find an application for their own research Researchers interact with industry execs, and entrepreneurs to employ their skills in valuable directions they could not have known about on their own
Challenges are Better than Resumes Executives send recruiters on campus to look at resumes Executive offer challenges that can benefit their firms, and the best students or researchers form teams to illustrate that their skills and creativity and possibly affect the solutions
Venture Collision Student start-ups compete with high profile start-ups High profile start-ups pitch on campus to explain why they are going to win in the market – and how the right students (individually or as nascent teams) could be part of the opportunity, via hiring, morphing, complementing, spin-ins, etc.
* All of these are examples of a “Collider Model” for venture creation.

Finding the Break Points

To me, a key is understanding where, during a firm’s development, student skills and research capabilities are best utilized.   When I think about company lifecycle, some intersecting points are better than others. Here are some common stages:

  • Ideation (your background skills mixed with changes in the environment) – Good timing to mix campus ideas with off campus people.
  • Post Series A Funding (laser focus on meeting growth targets)- Bad timing. Only hiring is possible. These firms cannot afford to deviate from their plan at this stage.
  • Crossing 500-1,000 people – Good timing. It’s the beginning of a period of new experiments and opportunities and usually the firm is looking to diversify product or service.
  • Large Enterprise, post 5000 people. Good timing, you just have to find the right part of the company which is ready to partner, be a customer, spin in a project, or try some moonshot experiment. Here there is always some part of the firm that is in a phase ready for new experiments.

Let me reiterate. My view is that there is nothing wrong with the learning process developed so far, including ideation, validation, adaptation, lean methods, mindset, ecosystem, etc. It’s all great and we now have a vocabulary and a way to teach things that were all very mysterious before.

However, it is far from the reality that firms and innovations all start with a blank sheet of paper or design on a cocktail napkin. So why should we only teach that method to students? In this next phase of entrepreneurship education, we need to look more carefully at the opportunities that can be created with later stage evolutions of technology and business as well as looking at the start from scratch approaches.

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