University-Based Entrepreneurship & Innovation Take Center Stage 

By Deborah D. Hoover 

In June of 2021, stars aligned around a brighter future for innovation and entrepreneurship on higher education campuses across the nation.  As Deshpande Symposium celebrated its tenth anniversary virtually, the nation focused attention on the Innovation and Competition Act, an important bill passed by the Senate 68-32 on June 8, 2021, that would if enacted, commit roughly $250 billion in funding for scientific research, subsidies for chipmakers and robot makers, and a transformation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

On June 11, Deshpande Symposium attendees were treated to the insights and enthusiasm of NSF Director, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, as he addressed the audience in his keynote, underscoring the criticality of scientific research to advance research and innovation in America.  The conference challenged attendees to think boldly about how our community of practice can play a pivotal role in building the capacity of universities, faculty, and students to more deeply engage in translational research and commercialization. 

In the 2019 book, JumpStarting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream, by Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson, the authors describe what America needs to jump-start its innovation engine.  “What we need is a sustained public- and private-sector push that scales up the innovation system focusing on the creation of ideas that can be converted into technology — just like the early work on digital computers ended up creating an entirely different structure for the organization and dissemination of information.  This will require the type of commitment to the federal funding of science that helped support our post—World War II boom (p. 11).”  The difference between then and now, is that most university campuses in the U.S. are outfitted with entrepreneurship ecosystems that can help bring research and ideas to market.  Now is the time to ramp up these ecosystems and make the connections that will drive the development of innovation to marketable products.  

Research shows that, in the throes of the pandemic, student engagement in entrepreneurship education increased significantly.  That positive trend supports the adage: Crisis fuels entrepreneurship.   It is a time to connect the dots on more funding for research, enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, pandemic disruptions, and the vision of reinvigorating the American Dream for all.   

As Northeast Ohio seeks to transform its regional university-based ecosystem for greater connectivity and measurable impact, stars are aligning around contextual developments that could accelerate the evolution of the region’s effort to increase the translation of research and the formation of new ventures.  Morgan Foundation is supporting Phase 2 of a Collegiate Entrepreneurship Landscape Assessment with input and strategic thinking from entrepreneurship leaders on campuses across the region.  Our university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem is already contributing to synergistic efforts across the region to convert research to products and new ventures.  Northeast Ohio must do all it can to strategically position itself as a region ready to take advantage of a renewed focus on government funding for science, innovation, and commercialization.  As the region prepares to welcome Deshpande Symposium to Cleveland in June of 2022, excitement is building for the reinvigoration of entrepreneurship as catalyst for taking research from lab to market.