Many U.S. colleges and universities are already providing innovation spaces, technology transfer support, public-private partnerships supporting and leveraging the intellectual property of faculty and staff. How might the university create opportunities for student founders to receive the coaching, support and financing to develop successful ventures?
I conducted in-depth interviews with more than 20 current and former student entrepreneurs, innovation space directors and managers and conducted design-thinking workshops with more than 75 students, educators, and entrepreneurs to determine the supports and barriers to student venture creation. These interviews and participants come from many different types of schools around the world. Some of this work has contributed to the structure and program development for a new student-innovation hub at Ohio University and the creation of the Scripps International Innovators Cup competition.
For student founders, the life of an entrepreneur is not linear.
That fact alone suggests that the academic schedule itself is a barrier to the development of student-led ventures. In conversation with student founders, I discovered these students sought alternate academic options like online classes, to provide the flexibility they needed. They often described needing just-in-time education to help develop their startup ventures while also pursuing their academic coursework. And they also expressed the desire to create a runway so they had time to test ideas and get traction before student loans came due.
These insights came in the form of the interviews and also conversation that spilled online into a Facebook group around media entrepreneurship, where this diverse group of entrepreneurs, educators and student founders began to brainstorm modules around innovation and entrepreneurship. Some of this work has gone into the creation of a new open textbook on Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship, where we piloted new open publishing processes. And we used the topics the entrepreneurs themselves identified as distinct activities in the lifecycle of a launch and structured our learning modules around them.
I also conducted site visits to schools like the MIT Media Lab and the Lassonde Institute in Utah, in addition to visiting pioneers like Retha Hill at Arizona State, who created one of the first innovation labs for media projects in higher education. I also visited incubators and accelerators, to create student internships and to provide alternative pathways to students interested in media innovation.
Some spaces were designed for interdisciplinarity.
At Lassonde Institute, a new entrepreneurship hub provides innovation programming, prototyping and maker spaces and houses student venture offices in open and closed office spaces. The upper floors of the building houses students focused on various aspects of innovation — in sustainability/ecotourism, global perspectives and other themes. Food trucks, entrepreneurial ventures themselves, feed the students alongside other food services.
So when we examine how to look at supportive structures for students, we must look to changes in instruction and the online and built structures that can foster collaboration and sustained activity to launch student ventures.
Dr. Michelle Ferrier is an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. She is the editor of Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship open textbook and founder of TrollBusters. Follow her on Twitter at @mediaghosts and the Facebook Media Entrepreneurship group.