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Although universities have always had a research function, they have increasingly become the main source of innovation for many of today's startups and organizations. Today's universities disprove the old cliché of providing theory about practical solutions and attract entrepreneurs who work on challenging real-world import problems. These universities also encourage more students to become founders themselves.
Here are some examples of how higher education plays a bigger role in the entrepreneurial business environment.
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Universities around the world go beyond classrooms and libraries to create these unique spaces where industry organizations and local businesses work with student founders to support new startups.
According to research from the Review of Economics and Political Science, the growing number of business incubators is leading entrepreneurs to develop a better understanding of business relationships, investments, employee mindset and more.
With the atmosphere of a combined think tank and collaborative workspace, these incubators also offer cafes, laboratories, mentoring services and conference facilities to emulate the feeling of a real work environment. In many ways, they are exactly that.
For example, there are numerous incubators and accelerators in UC Berkeley, including LAUNCH, SkyDeck and the Method of Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Such an extensive presence of incubators on a single university campus includes substantial funds for student projects. This encourages more students to turn their business ideas into companies while continuing to work on their degrees.
One of their other incubator programs is The House Residency. As part of the House Fund, Berkeley students, faculties, and alumni can use a variety of resources such as workspaces, mentors, tools, and up to $ 20,000 to build a business.
Related: Less time, more money, mentoring with accelerators, incubators
Product breakthroughs and guidance from professors
SRI in Stanford was the source of many product breakthroughs, such as Apple's Siri, the first mouse, and Shakey, the first multi-purpose mobile robot. It also offers workshops for entrepreneurs and addresses some issues related to the current global health crisis.
Dr. Manish Kothari, President of SRI International, explains higher education as an asset for today's startups: “The most important asset of a higher education institution or a research institute like SRI is exactly the same as the most important asset in a startup – the IQ. A university institute usually offers a unique one intellectual property (IP). Without an accompanying IQ, however, IP is often of limited use. "
Kothari adds: “Think tanks can often better understand business needs, and private incubators can better align the business use case with the risk investment model. Business consulting groups can help solve scale problems. They all play an important role, but none of them can deliver IQ reproducibly. "
Kothari also emphasizes the value of professors. At Stanford, professors serve as a sounding board for solving complex technical problems, even in the years after a founder left the university. SRI has also been critical to many founders who have identified a viable business opportunity but are struggling to innovate.
“Many university license groups have databases that you can query and regular email lists separated by subject areas. The ability to run a paid project and test it before buying is very valuable. There are also opportunities for collaboration between your employees and the laboratories. "
Related: How distance learning developed during the crisis
Business accelerators and entrepreneur workshops
According to a study collected by VentureBeat, there are nearly 250 startup accelerator programs at U.S. universities, including MIT, UC Berkeley and Harvard.
For example, Desai at the University of Michigan is a business accelerator on campus that helps companies drive innovative products. This accelerator has increased the start-up and growth rate of dozens of startups when building a local hub for business ecosystems in Ann Arbor.
The 10-month accelerator program is designed for early-stage companies and combines funding, mentoring, collaborative workspace and access to Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial community and the vast University of Michigan ecosystem. In this way, the university serves as a bridge to the local and global entrepreneurial community and provides these startups with additional resources for development.
Different types of projects help a startup to prepare for the future once it is active in its industry. For example, universities can set scenarios and cases that founders respond to in a controlled environment to better understand the impacts and needs. For the Desai accelerator, this includes boot camps, tactical exercises and pitch events.
Related: Advantages and Disadvantages of Incubator Financing
Development centers that promote diversity
Opening doors for smarter students is another way for universities to drive innovation for today's startups. Organizations like VentureWell have identified significant obstacles that prevent minority students from participating in innovation and entrepreneurship. By focusing on inclusion and diversity, higher education can help to improve the competitive conditions for women and the colored at an early stage.
Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania have partnered with public and private sector organizations for the West Philadelphia Skills Initiative, which provides training and placement support to local residents. Since 2011, the program has helped nearly 800 adults and adolescents and delivered results. In 2019, 97 percent of the program’s graduates found employment.
These examples paint a bright picture of the potential. However, more and more universities, investors and organizations have to do their homework and offer more opportunities that make it easy for today's startups to develop and start innovations.
Related: Accelerator vs. Incubator: which one is right for you?