Home How Colleges Can Better Nurture Startups

How Colleges Can Better Nurture Startups

While successful technology entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs founded their respective companies after dropping out of college, research universities have still succeeded in fostering their own innovative technologies. Currently, however, when a professor or student develops a particularly extraordinary idea or product, the process of spinning-off the intellectual property into its own company is usually a slow and expensive process. David B. Lerner, an entrepreneur, angel investor and director of Columbia University’s Venture Lab/Spin-Off program, recently proposed that universities work to reverse this trend and better facilitate startup spin-offs.

Some schools, like the ones we recently profiled in our list of the best entrepreneurial college programs, are doing a great job of facilitating entrepreneurship on the educational level. But as Lerner points out in his blog post Why and How Universities Should Embrace Startup Culture, most schools could benefit from revamping their spin-off practices.

“If universities wish to continue to be in the business of spinning-out game-changing companies such as Google, Netscape, Genentech, Lycos, Sun Microsystems and Cisco, they must be willing to steadily embrace the startup culture through these dedicated programs,” writes Lerner on his blog.

This “startup culture” Lerner references contrasts the “transactional/legal culture” which most universities are currently stuck in, making the spin-off process painful and unattractive. Lerner points to a post by fellow entrepreneur and investor Chris Dixon who writes that the Silicon Valley startup scene has become increasingly based on trust and community as opposed to the legalities and formalities universities are mired in.

Changing the culture of university tech innovation is just one of the suggestions Lerner proposes. He adds that schools should follow in the footsteps of Columbia University and create a venture lab headed by an experienced entrepreneur and investor. Along with simplifying and streamlining the spin-off process, Lerner suggests universities place a vested interest in the success of the IP that it creates.

“As an equity partner in various startups, the University must treat its portfolio as partners, not simply as licensees,” writes Lerner. “This implies working with its partners to facilitate success and to back-end its compensation and up-side as much as possible.”

Essentially, colleges across the nation could become their very own startup incubators. These schools should be doing everything in their power to help researchers in scientific labs uncovering new technologies or entrepreneurial go-getters in business schools to get their ideas off the ground. If their spin-off processes remain too arduous, the talented and brilliant innovators will continue to find resources outside of the university for seed funding and assistance.

As author Thomas Friedman recently wrote, the national economy would benefit from a ground surge of innovation and entrepreneurship, and universities could certainly benefit from helping lead that charge.

Photo by Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography.

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