Giving an Edge to Entrepreneurship

B-schools build ecosystems for student startups. 
Giving an Edge to Entrepreneurship

Bridge Hall at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California (Photo by Charles Clinton)


HOW CAN A SCHOOL increase the number of startups founded by its students and faculty—and improve those startups’ chances of success? Provide them with wide-ranging support and solid funding at the earliest stages of their businesses. In that spirit, three U.S.-based schools have committed to new initiatives meant to turn their communities into startup ecosystems:

The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business in Los Angeles has created a new venture capital fund to invest and receive equity in early-stage startups founded by USC students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Initially supported by donations, the USC Marshall Venture Fund will not only give early-stage USC-related companies the resources they need to grow, but also train students in venture investment, involve alumni, and motivate donors to support USC ventures.

“Learning to strike a balance between high risk and dramatic reward remains an essential business skill, one often best taught through practical involvement,” says USC Marshall dean James G. Ellis.

The 17 members of an investment committee will act as advisors to students who will help evaluate entrepreneurs’ applications for funding. The committee comprises representatives from venture capital firms, local incubators, and entrepreneurial organizations.

The school plans to invest in ten to 12 startups each year, and each startup chosen will receive between US$25,000 and $50,000. All realized gains will be reinvested into the fund to ensure its sustainability.

To accelerate the commercialization of student-founded ventures, the University of Texas at Dallas has partnered with Capital Factory, a Dallas-based early-stage tech investor that just opened its Dallas offices in 2018. Through the partnership, select UT Dallas student founders and their teams will have access to Capital Factory’s co-working space, as well as education, mentorship, networking, and products and services that will help them build their businesses. An incubator will host a calendar of events open to the public.

Both UT Dallas representatives and Capital Factory executives hope that the partnership will help make downtown Dallas a hub for students’ entrepreneurial activity. Among those supporting the partnership is Bryan Chambers, the new vice president of Capital Factory’s accelerator and investment fund. Chambers, a Dallas investor who also has served on UT Dallas’ entrepreneurship faculty, views collaborations such as the one between the university and Capital Factory as a critical way to boost startup activity in the cities of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio.

“Currently, Texas captures a mere 2 percent of national venture capital. To say Texas is underrepresented in VC would be an understatement,” Chambers said in a January interview with the online publication Dallas Innovates.

“By collaborating with more partners across the state and investors nationwide,” he adds, “we hope to influence the overall amount of national venture capital Texas receives.”

Santa Clara University in California is currently soliciting funding to create a central hub to guide and coordinate the innovation and entrepreneurship efforts of its students across campus. The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) will coordinate existing efforts at the university related to innovation and entrepreneurship, including startup competitions and mentorship programs at the Leavey School of Business; virtual- and augmented-reality experimentation in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Imaginarium; the use of the Maker Lab, a prototyping space at the School of Engineering; and the Entrepreneurs’ Law Clinic at the School of Law.

The CIE also will coordinate new initiatives, such as courses in design thinking, design challenges and hackathons, joint programs in product innovation or new-venture management, and faculty research on overcoming barriers to innovation. The CIE will infuse all of its entrepreneurial programming with three characteristics: the Jesuit perspective on responsibility, morality, and ethics; real-world experiences; and an entrepreneurial mindset, particularly one that focuses on innovations that create value or solve socially meaningful problems.

“The graduates of the future likely will have ten or more jobs—in many cases in fields that have yet to be envisioned,” says Caryn Beck-Dudley, dean of the Leavey School of Business, who worked with many stakeholders to coordinate the new CIE. Future graduates, she adds, “will need skills and aptitude for reinvention. Across all disciplines, our students will be more agile and adaptive if they are part of an ecosystem that instills a passion for innovation and entrepreneurship.”