This is an editorial written for the Michigan EntrepreNews . It addresses some key goals and objectives on my mind as I return back from 8 months abroad!
As my sabbatical draws to an end, I sit with my luggage packed and feel my work here in Switzerland is completed. My thoughts reflect on the past few months with our Entrepreneurship Programs and our Center for Entrepreneurship. My perspective over the last eight months has been as an outsider, if you will. I spent most of my time in Switzerland, with monthly trips back to Ann Arbor, and I realized the time I spent thinking of the CFE far exceeded the time I spent working for the CFE. Now I am ready to get back to work and see how useful my thoughts and perspectives really are. But I do want to share with you some of these ―outsider ideas that have been brewing in my head.
“I believe we have only just begun to scratch the surface.” Doug and his crew have achieved amazing successes which have started to put a national and international spot-light on the CFE and its partners. The University of Michigan‘s commitment to entrepreneurship has been communicated at all levels and thus we see an open road with huge opportunities. I would have never guessed that there was such tremendous and transformative potential in our programs. But, I now look at TechArb and the academic program Aileen is putting together with committed partners from the Ross School of Business, the Office of Technology Transfer and many others, and I wonder about our future. We have tremendous upside potential. The University of Michigan is one of the few places in the world that can do a 10,000 pitches competition – beating by a factor of 10 our initial goals. We can attract the most entrepreneurial students in the country through unique programs that combine breakthrough research and their entrepreneurial drive, and thus UM can increase its entrepreneurial successes from research many-fold. Our primary drive is no longer motivated by the fact that we need to catch up to other US entrepreneurial programs-we are now driven because we see our potential to create a Michigan entrepreneurship experience which can become a model of leading universities that seek to be a critical and enabling part of a new generation of entrepreneurial ecosystems. The key question is, How far are we willing to go?
“I believe we need to eat our own entrepreneurial dog food.” To be the best Entrepreneurship program of the future, we need to act like entrepreneurs. We must adapt in an environment which is not always used to risk-taking, trying new things, and an approach that encourages learn-as-you-go. When applying entrepreneurial principles to our decision making and programs, we become models for what we preach, and we motivate our environment to become more entrepreneurial as well. To my initial surprise, I believe there are more aspects to our work within the University for which we can learn from our entrepreneurship lessons. For example, I think most members of my research group would agree that our group is better since we started thinking more systematically about collaboration, about brainstorming, about project trials, and about test-marketing. We may have other words for these things in our research or education worlds, but I learned these lessons from my entrepreneurial friends and during events like the CFE Bay Area trip and our Friday seminars. Different perspectives create new solutions – even in fundamental research about space science!
“I believe we need to keep learning from others.” A key strength to our entrepreneurship efforts has been, from the beginning, that we received help from people with different perspectives. Many of these have turned into partners, collaborators and friends who share with us a lot of success. This help allowed us to prioritize and not waste time on dead-ends. I think there is still a lot to learn and we would be wise to keep using different perspectives along the way. Even as we create success, we need our friends to keep asking questions, or we will end up with the all-too common problem: People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped. These limitations could focus us on things that may seem increasingly important, but which are really taking our eye off the ball. I therefore ask our friends to continue to engage and remind us if we don‘t understand the key point the first time. The key question for our work will increasingly become how responsive we are to change around us. I therefore think that Darwin‘s lesson is very much applicable for us, too: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
If there is anything I have learned at the CFE is that entrepreneurship is about this change: Most of our best successes start with a failed idea! Thus, some of my perspectives provided above may change as well, but not our desire to do the best job we can do-together!