We’re all aware of the global companies started in college dorm rooms and classrooms. Facebook was founded at Harvard, Google and Snapchat were founded at Stanford, and Dell was founded at the University of Texas at Austin. So, whether these famous founders ended up graduating or not, there’s clearly something about university life that can help put people on the right path to successful entrepreneurship, and universities are taking notice. The entrepreneurial mindset happens to be a topic of great interest and effort, feeding into our economy as a whole in a big way, and has led to some changes within universities and they way they help entrepreneurial students achieve these goals without needing to leave the university itself.
Why is it that in recent years more and more startups have emerged from college campuses? Well in short, college offers students a low risk environment, access to an immense knowledge bank, and a pool of likeminded, ambitious people who are keen to notice pain points in their lives and communities.
The low level of risk for entrepreneurs still in the university system is partially due fact that, while they may be working on a business, they are still pursuing their degree, and generally still have that “backup plan” if their entrepreneurial venture fizzles out. Most college students are also unmarried, without children, and lack larger financial pressures, other than possible school loans, all of these being risk factors that deter many from starting a business later in life.
Beyond that, being in school gives students a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips. From expansive libraries, to guidance/career counselors and mentors, to professors, these students are well situated to find the answer to any question they might have.
That’s all fine and good, but it’s not the whole story.
While all of those factors contribute to producing entrepreneurs, universities with explicitly entrepreneurial mindsets and programs tend to produce the “top talent”. For example, in the tech industry the top tech talent tend to come from schools like the University of Texas, UC Berkeley, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, USC, and MIT… all of which have specific programs to foster entrepreneurial mindsets.
While all of this sounds wonderful, these programs haven’t always existed. In 2014 Cam Houser, CEO of 3 Day Startup, posed the question “Where’s the gap?” in reference to the fact that three-fourths of students indicated that “they have no access to on campus entrepreneurial resources” and pointed to the need for, as he put it:
- Cross Campus Collaboration
- Hands on Programs
- Dedicated Work Spaces
- Mentorship Programs
Houser may not have had a solution then, but in the last couple years university-sponsored incubators have emerged as the solution. An incubator is a collaborative program designed to provide startups with space, mentors, and all the resources they need to succeed. According to The International Business Innovation Association, one-third of all incubators are housed within a university, which is up from the one-fifth as of ten years ago.
Many universities are now also offering degree programs specifically geared towards entrepreneurship. For example, entrepreneur.com offers a list of the Top 25 Undergraduate Programs for Entrepreneurship. These universities feed the entrepreneurial mindset and urge their students to participate in competitions for feedback and collaboration, like the Entrepreneuring Days competition at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the world’s oldest global business plan competition, bringing together students and judges of all cultures, mindset and industries.
Entrepreneurial-minded universities are also attempting to address the lack of designated space for these students and their ideas, even dedicating entire buildings to the cause in some cases. At MIT they have developed the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and the University of Alabama – Birmingham has developed their “Innovation Depot” with a focus on technology business development. Many of these universities have launched mentorship programs within these innovation spaces and within their general business schools to give students further access to individuals that might help them move their ventures along.
Okay, so maybe you’re thinking, yeah this is cool, but why is it so important?
Between 1993 and 2013 small firms created 63% of the net new jobs in our economy. Small businesses are the backbone of the US economy and are leaders in new technology and patent creation in the US. That right there is why it’s important. University incubators fostering the entrepreneurial spirit and giving students a low risk environment to try new ideas are a big factor in pushing our economy forward in the future. And because of the world we live in, a great majority of these businesses are tech focused. And who knows, one of these students may just create something that can help us make your life a lot easier!