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Hundreds of Educators Gather at UMass Lowell for International Conference on Entrepreneurship

Third Annual Deshpande Symposium Draws Attendees from Across U.S., Canada

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Steven Tello of UMass Lowell speaks at the third annual Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.


Contacts for media: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or 

LOWELL, Mass. – More than 250 leaders from the worlds of education and business recently gathered at UMass Lowell to share best practices in teaching the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“Colleges and universities have gotten the entrepreneurial bug,” University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said in her keynote address to the third annual Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, held at UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. 

Patrick Gaughan arrived at the Deshpande Symposium from the University of Akron School of Law and his new job as executive director of the Innovation Practice Center with many questions. How would he get nontraditional entrepreneurial groups at his campus to buy into the notion of taking ideas to market? How would he make them see the value of entrepreneurship? And how would the symposium help him? By the end of the conference, he had those answers and more. 

Gaughan was among 250 people from 80 colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada who gathered to discuss a hot issue in higher education – how to take the plentiful ideas that germinate on college campuses to market and how to knock down barriers to making it happen. Under headers of ecosystems, curriculum, commercialization, and trends and topics, groups gathered to share ideas and spark solutions. 

“We aren’t here to talk down to you from the podium. Rather we want to support and further your learning collaboratively through this symposium,” said Raj Melville, executive director of the Deshpande Foundation, which co-sponsored the conference with UMass Lowell. In 2010, the foundation established the Merrimack Valley Sandbox Initiative through UMass Lowell’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to provide entrepreneurship programs in the cities of Lowell and Lawrence.

Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, chairman of the Sparta Group LLC and co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation, addressed the group as “250 self-selected leaders.” Entrepreneurship, he said, not only creates wealth and security for individuals, but jobs for graduates, and empowers a new workforce no longer tied to a single employer for life.

As testament to its popularity, the symposium drew 100 more people than it did last year, as well as sponsorships and a dynamic keynote speaker in Coleman, whom Time magazine has called “one of the 10 best college presidents.” She has served, along with Deshpande, as one of the co-chairs of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, appointed in 2010 by President Obama.

“The re-imagined future is happening now,” said Coleman, who took the reins of University of Michigan just as the bottom fell out of the region’s economy. A million jobs vanished, Detroit crumbled, institutions perished and unemployment climbed into double-digits. 

“Out of adversity came new thinking,” said Coleman, adding that entrepreneurship was an avenue “to prepare our graduates for economic survival. ... We had to become the innovators we were teaching our students to be.”

She said her university had to become “less insular” and “a catalyst for deeper connections with industry.” The University of Michigan removed institutional barriers to student ownership of intellectual property, added entrepreneurship to academics and “developed a vibrant, campus-wide ecosystem.” It didn’t happen overnight, she noted, but now “one in seven Michigan students participate in some form of entrepreneurial classes and activity.” 

UMass Lowell has also taken an entrepreneurial approach to how the institution operates in recent years. 

“We’re entrepreneurial in everything we do. This institution exists because of the Industrial Revolution. That has always been our history. Our research has a focus on technologies that have a high likelihood of commercialization,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, who participated in a discussion at the symposium with Buck Goldstein, entrepreneur in residence at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “Part of our purpose and mission is to focus on new technologies and new companies and create jobs.” 

Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney told attendees: “Seven years ago, UMass Lowell was facing the same thing a lot of institutions were,” including facilities that needed updating and enrollment that was flat. In 2007, when Meehan became chancellor, he brought a new, sharper focus and the goal of “pursuing excellence in everything we do.’”

“Today, you can’t imagine the change this university has gone through,” she said, noting that UMass Lowell has opened eight new buildings (including six during a single year) since 2007, enrollment has climbed 45 percent, incoming students’ average SAT scores have climbed 63 points and the university continues to climb, even top, national rankings. 

Bringing that entrepreneurial spirit into higher education means empowering those within an institution to innovate, Moloney said, including “giving people the opportunity to take risks and rewarding them and integrating” what they develop.

Twenty-four panel discussions throughout the three-day conference explored everything from traditional business plans and curriculum development to what entrepreneurs can learn from musicians about collaboration and presentation. Conference speakers included Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki; Prof. Vladimir Bulovic, an entrepreneur and associate dean for innovation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and UMass Lowell Vice Provost for Research Julie Chen. 

Honors were also presented in three categories:
  • Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship – Babson College, for its “Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurship” course;
  • Excellence in Student Engagement in Entrepreneurship – Arizona State University, for its Changemaker Program;
  • Exemplary Practice in Technology/Commercialization – Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation.

Intellectual property issues for student entrepreneurs and institutions were also discussed, as well as university-based business incubators and accelerators. UMass Lowell is home to the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) incubator and Gov. Deval Patrick announced last month that the state is funding an expansion of that effort as well as adding capacity for other types of ventures through the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub. 

UMass Lowell also offers a variety of programs designed to educate students on becoming entrepreneurs, including academic programs in the Manning School of Business and extracurriculars such as the DifferenceMaker Program, which teaches students entrepreneurial skills and how to apply them to developing solutions to business and community problems.

“What I got out of this is pretty unbelievable,” Gaughan said as he prepared to depart for Akron at the end of the symposium. “It attracted a great group and there were things that came up that weren’t even on my radar. I’m leaving with a stack of notes, an information overload. But it’s been wonderful.”

“I can’t stop myself from grinning as I look around the room and see this mix of highly respected colleges and universities meeting here at UMass Lowell,” said Steven Tello, UMass Lowell associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development and an organizer of the symposium. 

In addition to UMass Lowell and the Deshpande Foundation, event sponsors included the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the Morgan Foundation, Babson College and the University of Massachusetts President’s Office.    

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.