Committee recommends initiatives to foster entrepreneurship 'the Princeton way'

May 28, 2015 9:55 a.m.
PEAC report

The Princeton Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee (PEAC) has issued a report recommending a broad set of initiatives to enhance entrepreneurship at the University in a way that builds on Princeton's commitments to liberal arts education, research and public service.

The report (.pdf) proposes immediate steps and longer-term plans to encourage and enable entrepreneurship activity on campus and among members of the University community. The recommendations include: creating an entrepreneurship council; providing more space for entrepreneurial activities and programs; establishing an academic undergraduate certificate program; and cultivating the University's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

In their response to the report (.pdf), President Christopher L. Eisgruber and Provost David S. Lee said the committee outlined a broad vision that builds on Princeton's distinctive strengths and amplifies the core University missions of teaching and research. The alumni, faculty, staff and student committee was chaired by Mung Chiang, the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the University's Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education.

"We are grateful to PEAC for establishing this blueprint, which will be developed more fully in the months and years ahead," Eisgruber and Lee said.

Eisgruber and Lee said some proposals would be implemented now, while others will receive continuing consideration as part of the University's overall strategic planning process. Near-term plans include:

  • Establishing the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council to advise University leadership on the strategic direction and evolving vision of entrepreneurship at Princeton. The council, which will be chaired by Chiang and led by a faculty executive committee, will be assisted by an administrative committee of staff and students.
  • Opening an Entrepreneurship Hub, which will serve as an incubator space for students, faculty and alumni interested in entrepreneurship. The hub will open this summer in space leased in downtown Princeton.
  • Piloting entrepreneurial funding programs: an Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund to support and encourage the creative potential of young entrepreneurs; and the Tiger Challenge design competition for undergraduate students.
Entrepreneurship_MungChiang

The Princeton Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee (PEAC) was chaired by Mung Chiang, the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering and director of the University’s Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. PEAC has issued a report recommending a number of initiatives to enhance entrepreneurship at the University. (Photo by Denise Applewhite, Office of Communications)

The president and provost also endorsed the committee's conceptual proposal for an undergraduate certificate program in "Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design," which would span coursework across the natural sciences and engineering, the humanities and the social sciences. The proposal would require review and approval by University committees that oversee curriculum changes, as well as the full faculty.

"PEAC's vision is ambitious, as it should be, and realizing it will challenge and push the University in exciting, meaningful and necessary ways," Eisgruber and Lee said in their response.

"We are enormously grateful to the members of PEAC for the amount of time and energy they have put into producing an exciting and thoughtful vision of entrepreneurship at Princeton," Lee added. "Professor Chiang has been a truly inspirational leader in this effort, and we are especially thankful to him for agreeing to serve as the inaugural chair of the new Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, which will continue the momentum and guide this initiative in the years to come."

Entrepreneurship 'the Princeton way'

While entrepreneurship is a growing area at many universities, the report emphasizes the importance of fostering entrepreneurship "the Princeton way."

The committee broadly defined entrepreneurship as "the initiation of transformations through risk-taking actions and value-creating organizations," and embraced a holistic vision that encompasses all disciplines and includes a range of experiences and careers.

"Entrepreneurship the Princeton way should achieve the highest standard of excellence of entrepreneurial activities as a service to the nation and all nations, and enhance the liberal arts education environment through the entrepreneurial mindset," the report said, adding that alumni engagement also is key.

As the report outlines, entrepreneurship at Princeton may be characterized by:

  • making positive social, economic or cultural impact
  • teaching creativity, innovation and discovery
  • cultivating individual character through learning risk-taking and persistence
  • broadening students' intellectual interests and career choices
  • promoting interdisciplinary research across campus
  • supporting alumni entrepreneurs and further strengthening alumni connections to student and faculty entrepreneurial activities.

Eisgruber and Lee supported the report's vision, stating: "Entrepreneurs can be engineers or humanists. They can work in the private sector or the public sphere, driving positive change in all kinds of industries and in organizations of all shapes and sizes. Entrepreneurs challenge themselves to ask hard questions, think critically, develop innovative solutions and create organizations that effect meaningful change."

PEAC was established last year following increased interest in entrepreneurship among faculty, students and alumni, as well as a surge in entrepreneurship-related activities, courses, competitions and internships on campus.

"Princeton has produced several of today's most famous and successful entrepreneurs, and a wide range of important social and commercial initiatives have sprung from the work of Princeton students and faculty," Eisgruber and Lee noted. "What is unprecedented is the level of interest in entrepreneurship on campus; the expanding application of entrepreneurial thinking to all disciplines and all types of endeavors; the extraordinary impact of the technological revolution; and the growing importance of collaborations between universities and private sector entrepreneurs."

The committee's work included: evaluating the various entrepreneurial-related activities, programs and classes currently offered at the University; collecting feedback from alumni, faculty, staff and students through focus groups and the committee's website; and speaking with entrepreneurial leaders and students at peer institutions.

Recommendations in more detail

One of the first steps following the report's release will be the establishment of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council to steer and coordinate entrepreneurship-related programs across campus. The group will be led by faculty from the University's four academic divisions. Its work will include advising University leadership on the strategic direction and evolving vision of entrepreneurship at Princeton as well as developing and evaluating curricular aspects of entrepreneurship and overseeing the implementation of initiatives that do not naturally fit into existing offices on campus.

The council will be assisted by an administrative committee comprising representatives from the offices of the Provost, Dean of the College, Dean of the Graduate School, Career Services, Corporate and Foundation Relations, Development, and Technology Licensing as well as the Keller Center and the Pace Center for Civic Engagement. Students will be on the committee. This group will provide updates and input on the status of entrepreneurship within each of the entities' respective areas as well as across campus.

In addition, a position will be established in the Office of Technology Licensing to advise and support entrepreneurial faculty who are interested in establishing new ventures to help bring discoveries made on campus to the public.

The proposed undergraduate certificate program in "Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Design" would be open to all majors and could include existing, modified and new courses across the disciplines. The committee said the certificate program would help frame entrepreneurship in the context of the liberal arts and would provide budding entrepreneurs with a range of skills — from rigorous analysis to historical context to hands-on learning, from ethnography to journalism to design thinking — that would help them make successful contributions to the world.

The University also will pursue aspects of the report's recommendation to cultivate an entrepreneurial ecosystem on and around the campus. The report proposes a multi-faceted approach focused on engaging alumni, providing more funding opportunities, and supporting greater connections between entrepreneurial activities at the University and in the surrounding area and region.

"University-based entrepreneurial activity cannot exist in a vacuum — a vibrant ecosystem that includes and engages numerous stakeholders is critical," Eisgruber and Lee said in their response to the report.

Entrepreneurship_friendster

The University will open an Entrepreneurship Hub this summer at 34 Chambers St. in Princeton. The space will also host student teams participating in the Keller Center's summer eLab program. The team from Friendsy, who are seen here at last year's eLab Demo Day, will return this summer. (Photo by Tori Sulewski)

As part of this effort, the University will open an Entrepreneurship Hub this summer at 34 Chambers St. in Princeton. The 10,000-square-foot facility will serve as an anchor for a wide range of startup activities and will encourage an exchange of ideas among students, alumni and faculty. The space also will host undergraduate teams participating in the Keller Center's summer eLab program.

Recommendations for more space on campus, as well as a near-campus lab to foster connections between the University and local startup companies, will be considered as part of the University’s long-term strategic planning and campus planning processes.

As for new funding efforts, the pilot Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF) assists recent University alumni entrepreneurs and their start-up companies. A gift from three alumni established the AEF. Four teams were selected in the initial phase in fall 2014 and a second phase of the pilot is underway. Alumni who receive AEF support will serve as mentors to students, helping to advance the University's education mission and cultivate the University's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The AEF pilot will be evaluated to determine the future of the fund, while additional funding mechanisms for other new programs also will be explored.

A gift from an alumnus will establish a Tiger Challenge design contest, in which interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate students will be encouraged to develop solutions to intractable challenges facing society today.

"Princeton University does an outstanding job in what it chooses to pursue," the report said. "And entrepreneurship the Princeton way needs the kind of long-term planning, resource support and serious attention that will make it a shining feature of the University."