Universities Foster Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Federal Report Says

A study by the U.S. Department of Commerce has found that universities around the country promote entrepreneurship, innovation, and collaboration among students, faculty members, and industries across multiple sectors.

On Tuesday the department released a report on its findings, “The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University: Higher Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Focus.” Based on interviews with more than 130 officials in higher education, it examines how universities are influencing innovation across the nation.

The report “provides an important look at higher-education efforts to advance the innovation economy in communities nationwide,” Penny Pritzker, the commerce secretary, said in a written statement. The report is the department’s response to a 2011 letter from higher-education leaders proposing ways in which the federal government could aid universities’ efforts.

The goal of the report is to serve as a “source of ideas and encourage connections” between universities and individuals as well as recognize the programs already in place as universities continue to look for collaborative opportunities with the federal government.

The report says colleges have focused on promoting student and faculty innovation and entrepreneurship, facilitating university-industry efforts, encouraging local economic development, and supporting technology transfer.

And while institutions’ technology-transfer and technology-licensing offices have traditionally helped outside businesses commercialize products and inventions through universities, the report says they now serve as focal points for faculty members, students, alumni, and outside businesses to meet and collaborate on projects from start to finish.

“These offices are now focused on identifying and supporting entrepreneurship on campus, helping start-ups find the best opportunities and build successful business models, changing the culture of their universities, and creating companies that will be based in the communities around the university,” the report says.

At the California Institute of Technology, the report points out, not only does the technology-transfer office help inventors during the provisional patent process; it also helps evaluate how the business and technical models will work during a patent’s first year to see whether it’s worth going through with the patent process.

As for inspiring faculty members and students to invent and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities in the first place, the report highlights efforts by the University of Florida and its Innovation Hub, as well as the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Entrepreneur in Residence program, where students and faculty members are put in university-created communities with other innovators. The report notes that the number of entrepreneurial classes has increased, citing a course on the business of innovation commercialization at the University of Pittsburgh and a specialization in innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Denver.

“While many universities may hope that their students are secretly working on the next Apple or Google,” the report says, “their main objective is to provide educational value in a way that will focus students’ energies to help them identify and embrace their areas of interest, and supplement their classroom education with the development of life skills, such as budgeting, marketing, and professionalism.”

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