Entrepreneurial Universities?

It depends. It is either in their DNA (MIT) or shaped by the institutional culture that their environment and/or leaders foster (Stanford, Arizona State University).

MIT’s Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

The importance of institutional culture in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in Canada’s higher education institutions hit me after reading a post by Dan Herman, Executive Director of the DEEP Centre, where he commented on the mediocre innovation performance of Canadian businesses. My take on his post was that the most carefully crafted government policy is not going to make up for an organization’s neglect or reluctance to promote an innovation culture. Dan’s post prompted me to comment as follows:

From the days of the Federal Government’s InnovAction Strategy (1987) through to the Expert Panel on Commercialization (2006) and more recently the Jenkins report “Innovation Canada: A Call To Action” these and related questions in regards to Canada’s lack of innovation performance continues to confound the well-meaning experts. Ultimately, no government program is ever going to change organizational culture, which in my mind, is one of the root issues regarding innovation anemia. As Drucker once said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. No government program, no matter how-well designed or intentioned, is going to make up for a void in organizational leadership where innovation is not valued and innovators not empowered.

A video clip from a Feb 3, 2016 conversation with John Hennessy, President of Stanford University, highlights how this institution’s entrepreneurial culture is intimately connected to Silicon Valley’s culture for risk-taking. One reinforces the other in a dynamic and mutually beneficial fashion.


Transforming or re-inventing organizational culture takes time and committed leadership. This is especially true where the educational institution is not co-located in regions renowned for innovation-based entrepreneurship or has limited innovation DNA in its history. Take for instance Arizona State University President Michael Crow in his efforts to create a model for a New American University. He conceived the New American University model when he moved from Columbia University to ASU in 2002. Well into a second decade of leadership at ASU, the institution has made impressive strides.

Who are the exceptional leaders of higher education institutions that are creating such transformations in Canada?