The thriving spirit of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business and across the Carnegie Mellon University campus was recognized by a special visit from U.S. Department of Commerce officials, commemorating the award of a prestigious i6 Challenge Grant.
Brian McGowan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, explained the significance of the $1 million award to the Tepper School’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Works. The grant is designed to jump start new companies at the earliest stage of development and bolster the existing entrepreneurial framework.
“It is an exciting opportunity to highlight some of the nation’s best minds who are helping to move ideas from the lab into the marketplace,” McGowan said during the Nov. 12 ceremony.
McGowan presented commemorative plaques to both Art Boni, executive director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School, and Rich Lunak, president and chief executive of Innovation Works, which offers seed money and business assistance to startups.
“Startups are a part of our culture,” Boni said. “In 2010, the university had 30 spinoff companies, including 10 with direct licensed technologies from the university. Our tech transfer policy has been modified to encourage faculty startups with a standard and painless licensing process.”
Each year, the Donald H. Jones Center teaches about 1,000 students, both graduates and undergraduates, across campus. It also collaborates with other university stakeholders including the Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation, Project Olympus, and the Entertainment Technology Center.
Innovation Works, the southwestern Pennsylvania Ben Franklin Technology Partner, has worked together with Carnegie Mellon to nurture fast-growing companies such as Plextronics, Carnegie Speech, RedZone and ModCloth.
“Pittsburgh has an innovation system that is the envy of many places around the country,” Lunak said. “Carnegie Mellon has the track record of commercializing technology that is arguably the best of any university in the United States. We want to take this ecosystem to the next level.”
“We have set a goal of boosting research and development to three percent of the gross domestic product,” McGowan said. “But we can’t simply invest in R&D and hope and pray that some of the research is commercialized. We are creating a revolutionary method of creating new companies.”
The “agile innovation system” of the i6 grants ensures that research is commercialized by nurturing companies at their earliest stage of development during the next two years.
A team of “commercialization residents,” comprised of Tepper faculty, Innovation Works staff and external consultants, supported by MBA students, will study customers’ needs in the marketplace. Workshops on entrepreneurship will be organized to accelerate commercialization.
The grant also will provide pre-seed money to do limited test marketing on opportunities as soon as they appear in the market. There will be support for those ideas that get traction and move them forward and test marketing will increase the chances of an entrepreneur receiving angel funding.
“We want to create a system of more startups with a higher rate of success that would result in a greater economic impact,” Boni said. “We have a pipeline already in place. We want to get this jump-started.”
Following the presentation, a roundtable of economic developers, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs discussed ways to create local spinoffs and generate local jobs.
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