Deshpande Symposium Marks 10th Year with Programs, Awards

Chancellor Moloney at 2018 Deshpande Symposium
Leaders in entrepreneurship education gathered virtually this week for the 10th annual Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944, and Christine Gillette, 978-758-4664,

LOWELL, Mass. – Hundreds of higher education, business, government and nonprofit leaders gathered virtually this week to advance support for inventors and startups at the 10th annual Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education.

The symposium is presented by its founders UMass Lowell, which runs three business incubators and a student entrepreneurship program, and the Deshpande Foundation, which supports sustainable, scalable social and economic impact through innovation and entrepreneurship, along with the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, which champions the work of entrepreneurs of all ages. The event’s aim is to empower campus leaders in their efforts to raise the next generation of entrepreneurs. That goal has never been more essential, as the global economy evolves from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Tom O’Donnell, UMass Lowell’s senior director of innovation initiatives, who is among the event’s organizers.

“Deshpande Symposium participants’ world-class programs educating student entrepreneurs, translating university research from lab to market, expanding regional entrepreneurial ecosystems and transforming their campuses are truly inspirational. In these times of global challenge, their collective efforts in advancing innovation and entrepreneurship are more important than ever in preparing tomorrow’s leaders to tackle the world’s most pressing problems and in providing them the needed tools to do so,” O’Donnell said.

Over the course of the two-day event, held Thursday, June 10 and Friday, June 11, participants heard from keynote speakers Sethuraman Panchanathan, Ph.D., director of the National Science Foundation, an $8.billion federal agency charged with advancing all fields of scientific discovery, technological innovation and STEM education, and Gilda A. Barabino, Ph.D., president of Olin College of Engineering and professor of biomedical and chemical engineering who specializes in sickle cell disease, cellular and tissue engineering, and the role of race/ethnicity and gender in science and engineering.

Participants were able to choose from 24 conference sessions, networking sessions and online “Birds of a Feather” gatherings based on their interests. Panels, presentations and discussions were organized into four tracks, including Entrepreneurial Universities: Culture and Ecosystems, Entrepreneurship in the Curriculum, University Research Commercialization and Startups, and Emerging Trends.

Highlights of the symposium included the plenary panel “10th Anniversary Reflections,” which featured UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney and technology entrepreneur and co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, who together launched the symposium in 2012, along with Judith Cone, former vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development of the University of North Carolina.

Recognizing excellence

The event featured the presentation of the annual Deshpande Symposium Awards, which this year recognized two individuals and six institutions for their exemplary work fostering entrepreneurship. Along with Moloney, Deshpande and Cone, this year’s awards selection committee members were Deshpande Foundation Executive Director Raj Melville and VentureWell President and CEO Phil Weilerstein.

“After a year’s hiatus, the Deshpande Symposium Awards returned with a strong and diverse pool of nominations. This year’s awardees highlighted diversity of programming, curriculum and geography, including strong representation from Canada. Once again, two programs were recognized for innovation and potential in their approaches with the Rising Star Award. For the first time, the awards were online with acceptance speeches by the awardees streamed to a worldwide audience,” Melville said.

“This year’s Deshpande Symposium award winners are leaders in this field and we congratulate them for their exceptional contributions,” O’Donnell said.

The Deshpande Symposium Founders Award was presented to Edward B. Roberts, David Sarnoff Professor of Management of Technology and founder and chair, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

“I am honored to receive the Founder’s Award from the Deshpande Foundation. The MIT Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation closely collaborated with myself and the MIT Entrepreneurship Center. Later, I learned much more about the philanthropic generosity of the Deshpandes in nurturing entrepreneurship at MIT, in Boston through supporting MassChallenge, and in low-income communities in America and India. The Deshpande values and actions have inspired me always and make me proud to be selected for this award,” Roberts said.

The Outstanding Contributions to Advancing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education Award, which goes to individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary achievements in entrepreneurship in higher education, was presented to Dianne Welsh, Hayes Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of North Carolina Greensboro.

“It is truly an honor to receive this award. The Deshpande Foundation is an extraordinary organization supporting entrepreneurship education around the world. The foundation unequivocally understands the importance of entrepreneurship in the development of the world economy one entrepreneur at a time through education and support. As we strive towards greater inclusivity locally and worldwide, the Deshpande Foundation will continue to be a leader,” Welsh said.

The Entrepreneurial University Award recognizes institutions that demonstrate overall excellence in innovation and entrepreneurship. This year’s honor went to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

“We are honored to receive this award and the recognition that Queen’s students and graduates are indeed contributing to our society through innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Queen’s University Principal and Vice Chancellor Patrick Deane. “As changemakers, their efforts have real social impact and we are proud of their work and leadership. We are especially grateful for the support of the Deshpande Foundation in fostering a creative, collaborative environment that has made us a university for the future.”

The Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award, honoring innovative educational courses and programs to foster entrepreneurship education, was presented to the University of Connecticut Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Rising Star award in this category went to InnovationX, the Oregon State University Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the College of Business.

“Entrepreneurship can be a change agent in business and academia. The Werth Institute helps students with an entrepreneurial spirit in the sciences, engineering, arts and other areas of study specialties develop the business knowledge and connect with mentors who can help them to become ‘disruption ready,’ a sought-after skill in today’s workplace. In just three years, the Werth Institute has become an integral part of the student experience and is key to UConn’s strategic direction,” said Werth Institute Managing Director David Noble.

“We’ve worked hard to elevate and expand Launch Academy, an agile and inclusive student business incubator,” said Audrey Iffert-Saleem, director of InnovationX. “And we've made real progress: Each year, we serve more women, students of color, students with financial need and student parents; students from the different OSU colleges and campuses are bringing in their friends; the larger Oregon and Pacific Northwest business community knows to keep tabs on us. InnovationX has celebrated these accomplishments along the way, but the Rising Star Award and recognition from peer institutions within this notable forum is an honor.”

The Excellence in Student Engagement in Entrepreneurship Award – which recognizes an institution that encourages student leadership and engagement and supports the development of entrepreneurial awareness, skills and practice – was presented to the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute of Georgia State University and the Rising Star award in this category went to the Sheridan College EDGE Entrepreneurship Hub.

“Over the last five years, the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute and Georgia State University leadership have committed to growing a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation across the university. We’re building a model for inclusive entrepreneurship with an ecosystem of innovative programs and resources to advance new and diverse entrepreneurs. It is an honor to be acknowledged for Excellence in Student Engagement in Entrepreneurship and among the group of trailblazing institutions recognized at this year’s symposium,” said Jackie Davis, the institute’s associate director.

“I can’t say if it’s despite or because of the past year’s challenges, but the Sheridan EDGE team and student founders we support have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit I’m truly proud of. Our focus on impact entrepreneurship seems more relevant now than ever and students are responding with enthusiasm. Their visions for a more equitable and sustainable future are what fuels our momentum. We’re very grateful to be recognized with this award,” said Director of Entrepreneurship & Changemaking Renee Devereaux.

The Exemplary Practice in Technology Commercialization Award, which recognizes comprehensive programs that accelerate innovative research into commercialization, was presented to the University of Akron I-Corps Sites Program.

“It’s our great honor to receive this Deshpande Symposium Award for Exemplary Practice in Technology Commercialization and particularly to accept the award on behalf of so many university faculty, student and community innovators. The success of the University of Akron's NSF I-Corps Site is a testament to the quality of Northeast Ohio’s innovators and entrepreneurs, who have enabled the I-Corps program to thrive,” said Elyse Ball, executive director, University of Akron Research Foundation.

UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 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 and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.