University of Rochester: Transforming Ideas into Enterprises that Create Value

In 2003, the University of Rochester received a five-year grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to make entrepreneurship a comprehensive and defining institutional goal. As a world-class research university, Rochester is sufficiently accomplished, small, and cohesive to successfully embed enterprise creation into the missions and educational practices of its diverse schools and colleges and the broad range of fields they represent—from engineering to music to medicine. The University is blessed with a heritage of entrepreneurship, best symbolized perhaps by George Eastman, its greatest benefactor. Our aim has been nothing less than to engage our students and faculty at every level of learning so that entrepreneurship can come to define research and education at Rochester.

The University of Rochester believes that entrepreneurship, like research and artistic creativity, is a basic expression of human freedom. It is a primary way in which a free society grows and improves not only its economy, but its cultural and social life as well. More than a discrete set of business skills or practices, entrepreneurship is a calling that can be pursued in many realms of experience and achievement. A core value of American culture, entrepreneurship uniquely combines the visionary and the pragmatic. It requires both individual initiative and knowledge and, through awareness of markets, attention to the needs of others. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, an approach to problems, an attribute of mind, and even a trait of character. It is a science and an art. Some characteristics of entrepreneurship can be taught; others must be nurtured.

Understood in this way, entrepreneurship pervades the work of all of the University’s schools and colleges. We understand entrepreneurship to mean the transformation of an idea into an enterprise that generates value—intellectual, social, cultural, or economic. With that objective in mind, we have conducted a university-wide effort, the product of an unprecedented collaboration among the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, the Eastman School of Music, the School of Nursing, the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, and the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development; our goal has been to create at Rochester a comprehensive learning environment that enables and supports enterprise creation in ways authentic to the fields of liberal and professional education in which Rochester excels. It is our hope to have the School of Medicine and Dentistry incorporated into the initiative within the next year, as well.

Some of the signature innovations at the University funded by the Kauffman grant include: a.) the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year, a tuition-free fifth year for undergraduates, in which student proposals may include internships, special projects, business plan development, research into various facets of entrepreneurship, or analysis of how culture and public policy influence entrepreneurial activity (Student projects include restoration of a historically significant pipe organ, and an investigation of how to best integrate health care systems); b.) the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!), in which 7th-12th grade students learn about entrepreneurship in a University-sponsored program (with mentors from the College and the Business School) that teaches them how to write a business plan, pitch to potential investors, obtain funding, and then launch their company or social movement (Student businesses include a designer coffee-roasting company and a student-art rental company); c.) the Business Model Workshop Series and Competition for all University students (graduate and undergraduate), with a $10,000 award for the most successful team (37 students from the Simon School, the Eastman School of Music and the undergraduate college entered the program. Business ideas ranged from nonprofit mobile medical services to Internet startups.)

Through the Eastman School’s Institute for Music Leadership, we have created, implemented, and shared new ideas that ensure the vitality and relevance of music in the 21st century. The Center for Nursing Entrepreneurship Program has served to promote nurses into an expanded role in health care, as problem solvers, innovators, and leaders. With student internships, coursework at the undergraduate and graduate level, and partnerships with the Rochester community, we have involved our students and faculty in enterprise creation to help address social and economic needs. The University of Rochester Ain Center for Entrepreneurship serves to disseminate results throughout the University and share our experiences with other institutions of higher education. In partnership with the Kauffman Foundation, we are transforming the role of entrepreneurship in universities, and thereby elevating the role universities play in their communities and the nation at large.