The five secrets for creating ivory tower entrepreneurs

If you mention entrepreneurship and academia in the same breath, most people roll their eyes. For the last six weeks, I’ve had the good fortune of learning and teaching academic entrepreneurship as a Fulbright Scholar at Kings College London.

The view from across the pond is that the future economic growth of the European economy will , in large part, depend on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship and that providing entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and behaviors to all students throughout the educational system is a core strategy.

At Kings, recognized as one of the top 25 universities in the world, the core issue is how to transform the culture of a 180-year-old institution founded by King George the IV and the Duke of Wellington. In addition, the UK coalition government is in the midst of announcing massive cuts in government spending with over 600,000 government and public sector jobs on the chopping block.

Some 45,000 people in higher education alone could be made “redundant”. Over 30 million Americans are out of work. Some see this as evidence of a fundamental restructuring of the global economy. The message is that if you want a job in the future, you should create your own.

Given this background, academics, the recipients of large amounts of government funded research both in the US ( the University of Colorado recently announced they had received almost $800 million in grants) and the UK, are likewise being held accountable to demonstrate what the Brits call “impact”, i.e., demonstrating value from basic discoveries, inventions and ideas.

From what I’ve learned, the recipe for creating an entrepreneurial university requires several key ingredients:

1. Clearly defining learning outcomes that include entrepreneurial knowledge skills, attitudes and behaviors and cultivating staff who can teach it.

2. Providing an entrepreneurial academic culture by building networks, providing incentives and infrastructure to support those interested in academic entrepreneurship.

3. Expanding the definition of academic entrepreneurship to include research and teaching in the subject as a legitimate academic domain, not just the practice as measured by such limited metrics as invention disclosures, licensing fees and spinouts.

4. Leadership at the top that clearly articulates a vision and strategy and secures the resources to accomplish it.

5. Finally, most importantly and the most difficult to achieve, strategy and tactics to change the culture.

The US professoriate and educational institutions face the same challenges. Tuitions are rising, funding is shrinking, and attitudes are changing. Academics will increasingly be held accountable to demonstrate how they are creating value to all stakeholders, not just Big Pharma and Big Device, and how they are creating efficiencies in their work such that they can do more with less.

Every challenge creates enormous opportunities to change models and paradigms of how we do things. For those in the ivory towers, this time is no different.
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Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA is Professor of Otolaryngology, Dentistry and Engineering at the University of Colorado Denver and founding Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs