David B. Lerner

Dave Lerner, 3x Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Host of Venture Studio
Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Director of Columbia University Venture Lab, Blogger, Community Organizer, Golfer-in-Exile.

The Coming Entrepreneurial Tidal Wave: University Entrepreneurship 2.0

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Tidal wave

This is part of my ongoing series on University Entrepreneurship.

As I sometimes like to say- if the licensing side of the university tech transfer business is 29 years old by now, the practice of spinning-out companies based on university intellectual property is still really a teenager.  The field is still young enough such that no one has written the definitive book on its application and in the meantime the field simply continues to evolve and grow at a stunning pace.  And, like any teenager worth his or her salt, this form of university entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly boisterous, ambitious, somewhat unruly at times and yet is displaying enormous creativity, energy and imagination. As I approach the beginning of my fifth year in this field and with the benefit of having spun-out almost 50 university startups during this period, I have taken a moment to reflect on what I have seen and am seeing occur. 

According to AUTM statistics, American universities are now spinning-off companies based on university intellectual property at a clip approaching 600 per year. In addition, as demonstrated in a recent white-paper authored by a team led by MIT's legendary Ed Roberts, this number of 600 per year is actually dwarfed by the thousands of other companies being launched each year by university entrepreneurs forming companies of their own that are not based on their university's intellectual property. Another important development is the well-known fact that as the costs of launching a company continue to decrease due to the advent of cloud computing and the like- so has it steadily become much easier for university-age students to try their hand at entrepreneurship.

Over these past four years I have also observed more and more universities rising to the challenge of empowering and enabling their populations of fledgling entrepreneurs. More and more schools are offering entrepreneurship education and lectures, more and more tech transfer offices are setting up New Ventures divisions run by experienced entrepreneurs/investors and as a result we are seeing new programs bubbling up everywhere. It is now increasingly common to hear about various university programs offering entrepreneur office hours, seed-funding competitions and new entrepreneur-in-residence and/or venture mentorship services. Amazingly, such programs were the exception and not the rule when I first arrived on campus some four short years ago.

There are perhaps two other factors at play in this ether. The first I call the Facebook Effect. With the mythology of its dorm-room provenance looming archetypally over the consciousness of almost every new student venture, we have in place now the much needed "success story" to inspire legions of young entrepreneurs. Secondly, due to the prolonged economic downturn and decimation of the job market, more and more students now find it perfectly reasonable to explore the startup avenue than ever before.

It is my belief that we are now hearing the first rumblings of what will be an enormous tidal wave of entrepreneurial innovation emerging from the academy throughout this country. I'm officially going to go on record and declare that we are entering University Entrepreneurship 2.0

Your thoughts and comments are welcome as always.


For Part 23 in in this Series, click here

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Great article. It's not just the younger generation that is turning to entrepreneurship. With the current economic climate and the desire to work from home to have more time with their families there are many people like me (age 35) that have also become Entrepreneurs. I recently retired from a well paying Engineering Managers Position to lead a team of Entrepreneurs. This team consists of people of all ages and with the right mentoring and proven system behind us we to will be part of the Entrepreneurial tidal wave.

Absolutely true Nath... and I wish you lots of success. Thanks for the comments.

Cool post, David.

"...thousands of other companies being launched each year by university entrepreneurs forming companies of their own that are not based on their university's intellectual property."

My co-founder and I are part of that group. And I have some other friends at NYU who also decided to try their hand at tech entrepreneurship. It does seem to be getting more and more trendy.

I hope it happens more and more. In fact, I won't be satisfied until big-firm employees are the minority, and early-stage entrepreneurs are the majority! :-D

surf that wave, it is going to be massive.... wish you lots of success....

Having come from a corporate and venture management background myself, before coming into university venture management, I have seen the rich technology portfolios of universities that have not been fully utilized due to lack of sufficient experienced entrepreneurs. As more business entrepreneurs take the time to look under the covers of these technology rich enterprises, I think we will see the wave of new university ventures growing as Dave proposes.

After seven years inside the university system, I have decided that I can better help move this technology out by going back into the private entrepreneurial world. Keep improving the university venture management systems to better vet and connect technologies to outside entrepreneurs. We can make a difference together.

Steve Kubisen
FristStage Bioventures

Not just academicians creating companies. Check the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

thanks Steve... that is certainly one of our big challenges on the technology/IP-side of university entrepreneurship... the venture lab person always need to be in dialogue with the entrepreneurial and investment community... you were perfect for hopkins, etc. because you are an entrepreneur/investor that came from the community... I wish you lots of success with the new fund!

thanks Arlen, this looks like a vibrant group- where are you all based?

As a 19 year-old Wash U entrepreneur, I've used tech to built automated businesses that allow me to wear many hats and still play the part of college student. Automated does not mean small. In 3 months, one of my companies has generated over $100,000 in revenue and another has over 1,000 customers per year with an average annual total bill of over $300. Entrepreneurship is getting very easy for the technologists among us, it's the rest of the students I worry about.

great point... tech is leading the way, no question... what happens to everyone else in your estimation?

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