Hundreds of Educators Get Down to Business

Jerry Engel gives one of three keynotes talks during the Deshpande Symposium Image by Tory Germann
Jerry Engel, veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur and U.C. Berkeley professor, was one of the conference's keynote speakers.

By David Perry

Natasha Campagna understands the deep, human impact that entrepreneurship can have. 

As the manager of Sandbox by DMZ at Ryerson University in Toronto, one of Canada’s largest business incubators, she helps young entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life. Through her program, a 17-year-old and his classmate built a prototype for Heartwatch, a wearable heart monitoring system that alerts emergency responders when there is cardiac distress. The student created it because his mother’s heart could stop beating at any minute, a constant worry for him when he was at school.

Creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs to tackle big problems is a priority for Campagna, so she came to Lowell to learn about best practices for promoting entrepreneurship through education. She was among the 300 attendees at the sixth annual Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education, co-sponsored by UMass Lowell and the Deshpande Foundation. The event drew people from across North America as well as Ireland and Bombay to discuss ecosystems, curriculum, commercialization and trends.

“I’m here to discover and bring back ideas for potential collaborations. I’ve already heard a lot of cool ideas that might help us,” Campagna said.

Over three days, breakout workshops and panel discussions offered fuel to education and business leaders to create the next generation of economy-driving entrepreneurs.  Attendees assembled at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center heard keynotes from Jerry Engel, a veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of the University of California, Berkeley’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship; Worcester Polytechnic Institute President (and former NASA executive) Laurie Leshin; and high-tech superstar Bob Metcalfe, who is now Professor of Innovation at the University of Texas.

Chancellor Jacquie Moloney described the impact an entrepreneurial approach can have in higher education. She called UMass Lowell “an absolute poster child for how important entrepreneurship is.”

She noted that eight years ago, the university was “struggling,” state funding was declining and infrastructure was long overdue for an overhaul. Enrollment had dipped, too. 

Today, however, things have turned around, thanks to the adoption of entrepreneurial practices across the university.  “Business entrepreneurship is in absolutely everything we do. It has transformed this university. While there hadn’t been a new building in 30 years, we’ve added 13 in the past six years … and this is one of them,” she told the crowd.

Moloney called the conference “a place where educators and others invested in the future of entrepreneurship join forces to ensure that we are doing all we can to prepare students and assist startups for success in this important component of the global economy.”

In his Tuesday morning keynote, Engel advised educators to set the table, then help students “translate aspirations into action.”

Act like a metronome, Engel said: Keep time the way drummers and bassists hold down a band’s rhythm, and be ready to help students if they fall out of time. But respect their knowledge of the world and its needs, he advised.

Engel, who arrived at the University of California, Berkeley to pioneer curriculum and faculty development in entrepreneurial education, encouraged attendees to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship at their own colleges and universities.

“This is really about you,” he said. “The world we are living in demands we bring into the classroom our experiential capacity.”

Tuesday evening featured the annual Deshpande Symposium Awards, presented to four institutions and one individual to recognize “exceptional work to advance entrepreneurial education.”

The Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship Award went to Purdue University for its offerings of innovative educational courses and programs to further entrepreneurship education.

Ohio University won 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.

The Exemplary Practice in Technology Commercialization Award, which recognizes an institution for comprehensive programs that accelerate innovative research into commercialization, went to the Georgia Research Alliance.

The Outstanding Contributions to Advancing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education Award, which goes to the individual who has demonstrated extraordinary achievements in entrepreneurship in higher education, was presented to Barry Rosenbaum, senior fellow with the University of Akron Research Foundation.

And the institution that helped that Toronto teen develop the device that would tell him about his mother’s heart activity also earned an award. Ryerson University of Toronto won the Entrepreneurial University award.