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Campus Entrepreneurship Takes Spotlight

Leaders Share Ideas on How to Spark Innovation

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Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation and the Merrimack Valley Sandbox at UMass Lowell, speaks to students and faculty at the symposium on innovation and entrepreneurship in higher education.

By Jill Gambon

Universities are fertile territory for creativity and innovation, offering an environment where world-changing ideas are born.

But bringing those big ideas to life requires connecting the people who dream them with those who have the skills to help turn them into reality, which is often a challenge, according to Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, chairman of Sparta Group LLC and co-founder of the Deshpande Foundation and the Merrimack Valley Sandbox at UMass Lowell.
“We need new ways of thinking,” Deshpande said in opening remarks at the second annual Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. “There is a huge amount of room to be entrepreneurial in universities.”

The symposium brought 130 leaders from 30 universities, business incubators, foundations and other organizations, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, California Institute of Technology, Arizona State University and the National Science Foundation, to campus for two days. Attendees explored ways to foster a culture of innovation, embed entrepreneurship in the curriculum, accelerate technology commercialization and establish partnerships with businesses and the community. 

Assoc. Vice Chancellor Steve Tello said the conference was intended to help attendees build an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” where ideas can be nourished and thrive. Keynote speakers included MIT professor Donald Sadoway, who was named one of Time magazine’s" Top 100 Most Influential People in the World," and Babson College President-Elect Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.

Healey, who will assume her post in July, described entrepreneurs as “change agents” who aren’t afraid to take risks and tackle big societal problems. To foster an environment to encourage that approach, colleges and universities need to be entrepreneurial themselves, she said.

“We have to develop new sources of revenue, create partnerships with other universities, build online education and infuse the curriculum with things that are practical,” she said.

UMass Lowell has taken numerous steps to emphasize innovation since the inaugural innovation and entrepreneurship symposium was held last year, including the launch of the DifferenceMakers program and an expansion of technology commercialization efforts, said Executive Vice Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney.

“We were inspired by the ideas exchanged and the networks we created,” she said.

Another outgrowth of last year’s symposium is the newly formed Deshpande Consortium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, a partnership between more than three dozen colleges and universities focused on developing entrepreneurial institutions. Supported by the Deshpande Foundation and hosted at UMass Lowell, the consortium will run the annual symposium and promote networking among members.