Higher Education & Entrepreneurship in Colorado

Tags: Entrepreneurship

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Campus communities and entrepreneurial clusters overlap and affect one another. This Report examines entrepreneurial education led by Colorado’s colleges and universities as well as through specific interactions between institutions of higher education and entrepreneurial clusters in Colorado. This Report was commissioned by the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of ColoradoBoulder. The Report is designed to support the efforts of the Governor’s Innovation Council, an informal advisory body to Governor Bill Ritter. Promotion of entrepreneurship in Colorado is among the Innovation Council’s areas of emphasis. These efforts spurred a Colorado delegation’s March 2009 trip to Silicon Valley as well as Roundtable discussions on entrepreneurship and higher education held on December 11, 2008 at Colorado Law School and June 24, 2009 at the Bard Center. This Report’s ambition is three-fold. First, the analysis intends to stimulate the exchange of ideas concerning entrepreneurial education in and around Colorado’s universities and colleges. Second, the Report aims to map many of the notable entrepreneurial initiatives across Colorado’s campuses. To date such a compilation is missing. And third, the Report provided the intellectual framework for the June 24 Roundtable discussion which helped produce actionable items for the Governor’s Innovation Council. Each of the views expressed in the Report do not necessarily represent the Innovation Council, the Roundtable Participants, the Silicon Flatirons Center, or Governor Ritter. The Report proceeds in three parts. Part one of the Report looks outside of Colorado to offer a framework for understanding how higher education affects entrepreneurs. Research indicates that higher education affects five determinants of entrepreneurship: (1) entrepreneurial capabilities, (2) R&D and technology, (3) culture, (4) regulation, and (5) access to capital. “Entrepreneurship capabilities” are a type of capital in the form of talents, abilities, and assets that directly influence new business formation directly. Educational institutes influence these capabilities through entrepreneurship classes, programs and hiring practices that affect the training and experience of entrepreneurs, and through “entrepreneurial infrastructure” like support centers and incubators. In terms of R&D and technology, universities affect entrepreneurship through research discoveries and what is called the “university-industry interface,” a broad term meant to describe the movement of people and technologies between academic institutions and industry. On-campus culture affects entrepreneurship because while most university faculties favor government-funded research over commerce, those that encourage more commercial activity seem to promote more regional economic activity. Regulation in the form of statutes and university policies may also influence entrepreneurship. Finally, with respect to access to capital, increasing the amount of venture capital does not seem to affect performance, whereas increasing the number of good start-ups tends to draw venture capitalists. Part one also highlights several innovative and effective efforts to promote entrepreneurship within higher education. The TI:GER program in Georgia and the Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship in Sweden, for example, both involve two-year programs in which students commercialize university research and form start-ups as part of their curriculum. Public-private partnerships in four states helped to attract entrepreneurial professors, commercially-oriented administrators, and commercial research funding. Several small business development centers recently moved to a new model that helps entrepreneurs to access university resources and expertise. At MIT and Stanford, heightened levels of commercial research funding encourage increased entrepreneurship and heightened academic reputations for its faculty. Through efforts to engage with industry, the University of Utah now has the lowest cost per spin-out of any institution in the United States, while a number of states have created “funds of funds” that tie state investments in venture capital funds to investments in local firms, especially university spin-offs. Finally, some states have modified tenure policies and university charters to promote academic entrepreneurship, but the jury is still out on the effect of those programs. Part two focuses on Colorado. Richard Florida talks about “mega-regions,” 12 locales that include 17 percent of the global population, produce two thirds of the world’s economic activity, and yield 90 percent of global innovation. The Front Range is a mega region thanks to Colorado’s universities and federal research labs. The three campuses of the University of Colorado, the two campuses of Colorado State University, the University of Denver, the Colorado School of Mines, Metro State College, the United States Air Force Academy, and the 14 federal laboratories all maintain initiatives designed to promote entrepreneurship and innovations. CU’s efforts revolve around the chancellor’s offices, the technology transfer office, the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship (in the Leeds School of Business), the Silicon Flatirons Center (in the Law School), the E-Ship Program at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, ATLAS, the Bard Center (part of UC-Denver’s Business School), the El Pomar Institute for Innovation and Commercialization at Colorado Springs, and the Anschutz Medical Campus, as well as surrounding clusters of entrepreneurial activity. CSU’s initiatives involve the president’s office, the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise Program at the College of Business, the SuperClusters initiative, and the business community in Fort Collins. The Colorado School of Mines, as a matter of institutional focus, maintains a long tradition of interaction with industry but explicitly avoids setting up entrepreneurship centers. Metro State College focuses on social entrepreneurship and underserved communities, while the Air Force Academy offers entrepreneurship classes and two centers in which cadets and professors work to commercialize new technologies. Last but not least, the 14 federally-funded laboratories in Colorado provide for both educational programs and commercialization endeavors, the most vigorous occurring at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. Outside of the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, however, Colorado’s universities and labs do not formally coordinate any of their efforts to enhance local entrepreneurship. Part three considers the challenges and opportunities faced by Colorado colleges and universities in their efforts to better support entrepreneurship. If the goal of entrepreneurship education is to promote economic growth, then we must consider that highly-educated people produce innovations that drive employment, sales, profitability, economic growth, and standards of living. While it is tempting to suggest that Colorado’s federal laboratories and institutions of higher education can enhance entrepreneurship by copying strategies from other locales, academic research leads to a different conclusion. Simply increasing funding for generalized entrepreneurship education is not enough. Rather, Colorado should identify targeted initiatives which support highly-educated people who have already graduated from college and help them to start businesses in industries known for high growth and high barriers to entry (perhaps protectable by patents). Given that increasing age seems to be the best predictor of successful selfemployment, and that older people are less likely to leave Colorado upon graduation, Colorado universities and governments should pay special attention to strategies focused on highly-educated entrepreneurs with significant industry experience. Additionally, it should be considered how to best enhance experiential entrepreneurship programs. For example, programs modeled after the Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship in Sweden and the TI:GER program in Georgia could give students real-world, experiential learning opportunities without pulling professors or students away from existing departments, while at the same time helping universities to commercialize research discoveries. Overall, the ultimate goal should be to improve the quality of the pipeline of people and companies, and not just to produce more firms. The June 24, 2009 Roundtable discussion identified potential initiatives Colorado universities should take to obtain their entrepreneurship goals. Specifically, the Roundtable discussants recognized the need to (1) raise public awareness concerning the already extensive range of existing entrepreneurship initiatives at colleges and universities; (2) facilitate sensible collaboration (e.g., grant writing) and information sharing among Colorado’s higher educational institutions; and (3) establish a pan-university entrepreneurial forum or network which would facilitate the first two suggestions, as well as consider and weigh in on policy issues that affect entrepreneurial education. The group then recommended consideration of specific initiatives to accomplish these goals, including an entrepreneurship education clearinghouse, grassroots awareness drive, improved collaboration, and establishment of a policy forum.

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