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How-To: Advocate for Faculty to Engage In and Expand Innovation & Entrepreneurship Offerings

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The faculty members of a university are integral to the process of shaping a campus. By aiming to increase a university’s innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E), one must necessarily include professors and staff, who have a direct position of influence in each student’s education. Faculty have the power to create classes, establish student resources, support organizations, and help host events. Simply put, asking good questions of faculty will generate the best results. The process looks like this:

  • Be sure to understand the system from a professor’s perspective: have conversation and understand their thoughts.
  • Establish connections with professors in departments that are traditionally receptive to I&E. Meet with them and understand what “innovation” is really about for you and your school.
  • Begin investigating what I&E mean outside of traditionally receptive departments. With this perspective, craft a plan that is both embracing of I&E and true to the spirit of your university.
  • To make a compelling argument for I&E to faculty, two things are required: data and and an understanding of the factors that may create opposition to classroom changes

Innovation & Entrepreneurship: More Than Buzzwords

The words “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” can quickly run out of steam, despite their undeniable importance. Faculty value the long-term impact of the university, and tend to be hesitant to embrace what may appear to them as an academic fad. Every school wants to latch onto something that makes them sound cutting-edge, and “innovation” is has been an extremely powerful concept in recent years.

One case that demonstrates true systemic change in the university system is service. In many colleges and universities, the ideal of “service” has developed from “volunteering on one’s own time” into “service learning.” Community engagement has been integrated into the curriculum, and stakeholders of all levels are beginning to see the long-term positive impact of service on a campus community. In a similar way, innovation and entrepreneurship should be seen as a commitment that cannot be reduced to material advances such as “buy tools for a makerspace.” Instead, a true commitment to innovation on a systemic level must involve all types of stakeholders and consider how the shape of a campus will be affected by the cumulative impact of innovation workshops, entrepreneurial conferences, new courses, and so on. Faculty care about this type of holistic understanding very deeply, and being able to articulate the precise goals for I&E on a specific campus is imperative for effective communication. See the article linked below on Academic Entrepreneurship for a viewpoint on this.

Who To Involve

Engineering, business, and physics departments are common places to get a conversation started with faculty, and might be considered traditionally receptive departments. Typically, these departments have faculty that recognize the value of entrepreneurial education, whether that means writing a business plan, seeking startup seed funding, or learning skills in a makerspace. However, those aspects of entrepreneurialism often fail to include many other traditional academic disciplines. University Innovation is about an interdisciplinary approach that builds organically on top of the expertise of engineers and scientists. Engaging all faculty requires that students tailor the meaning of entrepreneurship to the ideals of their own school. For example, at a liberal arts school, the impact of entrepreneurship may be interpreted very broadly as “adding value” through an entrepreneurial set of problem-solving skills, whereas a research university may have considerations that define entrepreneurship more specifically as endeavors that advance the commercializable ability of a given discipline. However, neither definition is strict - both are bound to one’s personal experience and context. Though categories such as social entrepreneurship have been clearly defined, many opportunities for innovation exist in conceptual spaces that are as-yet undefined.

Recognizing Faculty Goals

Understanding the viewpoints of professors on the topic of innovation is important to create sustainable, systemic change. Engage in conversation with your professors and understand what they think about the idea of “innovation” on your campus. Some faculty may fear that bringing “entrepreneurship” into a campus means replacing books with business or transitioning from critical thought to communication technology. It must be recognized that entrepreneurial movements in a university setting serve an educational role through the experience they provide students. Moreover, an “entrepreneurial education” provides meaningful skills and develops capacities that are otherwise never found in the classroom. One great example of this is the recent “Reinventing the Physicist” conference held by the American Physical Society, linked below.

Enabling Curricular Change

To start the process of advocacy from faculty, professors should be informed about the benefits of implementing innovation in the classroom.  Professors should constantly be reminded that entrepreneur and innovation have implications other than the typical invention of a business plan.  Examples of how innovation and entrepreneurship facilitated progress and effectiveness of their career should be discussed.  Examples of how innovation and entrepreneurship can facilitate progress and effectiveness within their students’ careers should also be a driving point.  At this stage in the process, it is important to move from general concepts to specific points, which will vary wildly by the faculty person and department. The propensity to support a cause or idea is much higher when it is relatable, so ensure that faculty have a strong reason to care. Furthermore, when approaching faculty, brevity is very important.  Faculty members are usually engrossed in other serious matters, so pitching your ideas briefly and effectively will create a more positive response. Have ideas and numbers (if needed) at hand. Hitting all the key points in as little time as possible would be the best way to capture a professor’s attention. If you can capture their interest, they’ll ask questions, and your experience working to catalyze innovation comes into play.

How to Promote Innovation & Entrepreneurship to Faculty

Some past fellows have had great luck with speaking to their faculty in a group setting. Even if only five minutes at a faculty department meeting, take every opportunity to develop public relations. Tell faculty that you are working to increase innovation in the classroom and get interested faculty together. Don’t be afraid to take your faculty out for lunch. Discuss their methods of instruction and ask how they lead students to create and innovate in the classroom. More important than having a meeting is building a relationship: the role of I&E is a big picture, and it is impossible to instigate change through an isolated meeting. Instead, brainstorm alongside teams of faculty and get their opinions. Bounce ideas around and help them talk through what innovative curriculum might look like for their classroom.

Emphasize Student Voices

Make sure that student voices are heard. Tell faculty that students want to play an active role in determining the state of their classroom. Students often know what they want in the classroom, and are willing to share their thoughts - but only if asked.


Science and entrepreneurship:

Reading Resources For Faculty & Students Interested In The Entrepreneurial Mindset:

  • Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010), Wiley. 
  • The Art of the Start – Kawasaki 
  • Blue Ocean Strategy
  • Creating Innovators
  • Deconstructing the Innovator’s DNA. Mathis,D., Fila, N., & Purzer, S. (2014). Proceedings of ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. Indianapolis, IN.
  • Ecological Economics – A Framework for Creating Social and Ecological Intelligence. O’Hara Schwendner
  • Effectuation by Saras Sarasvathy
  • Entrepreneurship: Its Role in Engineering Education
  • Impossible, Worthless, and Stupid
  • Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators.Dye, J., Gergerson, H., Christensen, C. 2011. Harvard Business Review. 
  • Little Bets
  • Sheri Sheppard’s work 
  • Technology Ventures: From Idea to Enterprise by Tom Byers
  • Thanks for the Feedback by Stone and Heen
  • The Coming Jobs War
  • The Innovator’s Dilemma
  • The Nature of Technology by Brian Arthur
  • Toy and Game Inventors’ Handbook, (even though it is out of print). This book goes through all of the stages of getting a product into the market. It is quite enlightening in terms of what we aren’t teaching students that want to start a business that involves making a tangible product. It also talks about the risk involved in working for yourself. 
  • Will It Fly?

Resource list generated by Epicenter research community surveyed as to the best books, articles and papers to provide to students interested in Entrepreneurship. For more information, visit