The Coming Entrepreneurial Tidal Wave: University Entrepreneurship 2.0

This post was written in late 2010, (I've reposted here):

As I sometimes like to say- if the licensing side of the university tech transfer business is 29 years old by now, the practice of spinning-out companies based on university intellectual property is still really a teenager.  The field is still young enough such that no one has written the definitive book on its application and in the meantime the field simply continues to evolve and grow at a stunning pace.  And, like any teenager worth his or her salt, this form of university entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly boisterous, ambitious, somewhat unruly at times and yet is displaying enormous creativity, energy and imagination. As I approach the beginning of my fifth year in the university and with the benefit of having spun-out almost 50 university startups during this period, I have taken a moment to reflect on what I have seen and am seeing occur. 

According to AUTM statistics, American universities are now spinning-off companies based on university intellectual property at a clip approaching 600 per year. In addition, as demonstrated in a recent white-paper authored by a team led by MIT's legendary Ed Roberts, this number of 600 per year is actually dwarfed by the thousands of other companies being launched each year by university entrepreneurs forming companies of their own that are not based on their university's intellectual property. Another important development is the well-known fact that as the costs of launching a company continue to decrease due to the advent of cloud computing and the like- so has it steadily become much easier for university-age students to try their hand at entrepreneurship.

Over these past four years I have also observed more and more universities rising to the challenge of empowering and enabling their populations of fledgling entrepreneurs. More and more schools are offering entrepreneurship education and lectures, and setting up divisions run by experienced entrepreneurs/investors and as a result we are seeing new programs bubbling up everywhere. It is now increasingly common to hear about various university programs offering entrepreneur office hours, seed-funding competitions and new entrepreneur-in-residence and/or venture mentorship services. Amazingly, such programs were the exception and not the rule when I first arrived on campus some four short years ago.

There are perhaps two other factors at play in this ether. The first I call the Facebook Effect. With the mythology of its dorm-room provenance looming archetypally over the consciousness of almost every new student venture, we have in place now the much needed "success story" to inspire legions of young entrepreneurs. Secondly, due to the prolonged economic downturn and decimation of the job market, more and more students now find it perfectly reasonable to explore the startup avenue than ever before.

It is my belief that we are now hearing the first rumblings of what will be an enormous tidal wave of entrepreneurial innovation emerging from the academy throughout this country. I'm officially going to go on record and declare that we are entering University Entrepreneurship 2.0