Until the Levin administration, the commercialization of academic research at Yale through the institutionalization of entrepreneurship, and the concomitant economic development, was not considered part of the mission of the University. Levin’s expertise in technology transfer means that times have changed, and the University is helping professors spin out productive companies through Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research. However, more needs to be done.
Nominally, entrepreneurship by faculty is no longer considered anathema, but we need to change the perception that commercial ventures and entrepreneurs are “un-Yale.” This conventional wisdom seems to have hung around campus, and it hinders Yale’s efforts to catch-up and to compete with other peer institutions.
The fact is that at Yale, both faculty and students are still expected to walk a thin line when it comes to entrepreneurship. In many cases, those involved in start-ups are typecast as shifty corporate types or at least, (and even worse for some) non-academics. However, there exists a close link between entrepreneurship and Yale tradition that is commonly overlooked.
Entrepreneurship loosely defined is the generation of effective solutions from highly risky and innovative ventures. Interestingly enough then, entrepreneurship is very much present in the traditional fabric of Yale; it just takes on various forms. There are of course the technology-based entrepreneurs, who we can find in the labs and lecture halls atop Science Hill and in Becton. However, there are potential entrepreneurs studying diligently in WLH or even LC, as an English major creates the workings of an opera and puts on a show driven by plain inspiration, and the history major researches and opens his own exhibit at the Peabody. Further, there is perhaps the most perfect, and certainly most relevant example of entrepreneurship at Yale: the political campaign. To generate mass appeal and to finance such an extravaganza is the heart of entrepreneurial spirit. This spirit is embodied in the mindset of the Yalie and intertwined in the Yale tradition.
The Entrepreneurship Center at MIT sponsors courses in technology and new business strategy, business plan development, and start-up financing, while maintaining entrepreneurship labs where technological ideas can be tested and reviewed by students and professors. Stanford meanwhile implements an Entrepreneurship Network that coordinates affairs between the schools of engineering, business, law and medicine, thereby ensuring proper dialogue in addressing the different needs of a start-up company.
Yale, like these more technology-oriented institutions, has a great amount of intellectual capital in engineering and science. And, what is better, we also have brilliant liberal arts students with diverse interests who can synthesize the technical with the policy and social implications. Such a talented cross-section is hard to find elsewhere in the world, and Yale needs to capitalize on this.
The Yale Entrepreneurial Society (YES), Yale’s only entrepreneurial student group and Yale-affiliated nonprofit, is in the process of creating this framework. For instance, tomorrow, at the Yale Law School, winners of the Y50K, YES’s annual business plan competition, in both for-profit and socially responsible categories, will receive $50,000 in cash prizes. This prize money is meant to help nascent ventures get started, but also serve as an incentive for budding student entrepreneurs to go through the process of subjecting their ideas to expert venture capitalists, social entrepreneurs, foundation officers and other sources of funding.
Entrepreneurship centers and networks must be established in Yale engineering and science departments to facilitate the growth of valuable solutions that emerge daily from these areas. Nonetheless, this institutionalization of entrepreneurship at Yale must come in unique fashion; that is, it must come with a feeling that makes it Yale. Though institutions like Stanford, MIT, and various state universities, allow entrepreneurship citations in undergraduate curricula and create an institutional framework for start-ups created by professors and students, Yale, like its student body, enjoys being a leader among its peers and certainly will not follow an already worn path. Instead, to emblazon entrepreneurship at Yale with the Yale imprimatur, I encourage the institutionalization of not only technology-based entrepreneurship through creating entrepreneurial labs and networking channels, but creating a formal venue for the alternative forms of entrepreneurship discussed above.
Though culture and tradition at Yale certainly demand a sort of pen wielding, athletic, social and diligent student (per the gargoyles atop Harkness Tower), with Yale’s huge mass of intellectual capital, Yale culture and tradition should also encourage individuals who efficaciously tap that capital with entrepreneurial (read: Yale) spirit.
Parminder Singh is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College. He is a member of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society.