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University of Chicago Student Priorities

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The University of Chicago is currently in the process of expanding and refining its entrepreneurial ecosystem, and there have been numerous exciting developments in the recent year. In order to further this growth as students, we have devised a "bottom-up" approach, in constrast to the university's "top-down" approach of building infrastructure and implementing major changes, that takes into account the needs and expectations of the student body. Below we indicate major priorities for our university in improving its entrepreneurial ecosystem, which we believe will yield many long-term benefits.

In our analysis of the various innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) resources available to members of the university, we noted two major areas for improvement: introducing students of all disciplines to the importance and relevance of I&E, and providing the appropriate resources to help students work on entrepreneurial projects in their domain of interest. Programming and resources that address these needs already exist for graduate students and faculty members, but they do not yet for undergraduate students. We believe that such changes in the I&E ecosystem can be accomplished within the reasonable time span of one to three years because they already do for other members of the university.

Goal 1: Expose students to the importance and value of I&E

In our conversations with members of the student body from different backgrounds and academic disciplines, we uncovered a common theme: students generally do not understand the relevance of entrepreneurship to their professional interests. Some students remarked that the I&E programs and events offered by the university are often "self-selecting" in that the students who participate in such programs are more often than not in these programs because they have already built up an interest in entrepreneurship and are not participating in these offerings to explore entrepreneurship. This self-selection leads to the I&E ecosystem consisting largely of students in areas like economics and computer science and ultimately shapes the programming to be more directed to the interests of members of these segments of the student body.

Project 1: Implement programs that cater to problem solvers rather than entrepreneurs

For many non-entrepreneurial students at the University of Chicago, the word "entrepreneurship" is associated with things like business and technology. While entrepreneurship is not intrinsically tied with either of these concepts, this strong association leads to many students not being interested in getting involved in entrepreneurial opportunities. A broad solution to this problem would be to expose these students to how entrepreneurship is relevant to their experiences and interests. We are currently implementing a program that is a specific variant of this solution directed towards undergraduate science majors.

Science Innovation Program

The Science Innovation Program is a two-quarter training program designed to help science and engineering undergraduates apply their knowledge and develop the entrepreneurial skills and knowledge that they need to come up with good business ideas to solve important social issues like healthcare and pollution, and create successful startup companies around these ideas. In the first quarter of the program, members of the program will attend four biweekly workshops led by professors from the Booth School of Business and entrepreneurs from Chicago-based startups where they will learn the essentials of coming up with new ideas, assessing the practicality and feasibility of their ideas, developing a business plan for their idea, and implementing their business plan. In the second quarter of the program, members will then have the opportunity to formulate their own ideas for scientific inventions, create a business plans for these ideas, and pitch these ideas to a panel of investors and professors, who will evaluate and give feedback on these proposals. The program has been designed specifically to help students who are majoring in the sciences and engineering, and have little to no background in either entrepreneurship or business. Furthermore, students are not expected to have their own business ideas prior to participating in the program.

Project Lead: Klevin Lo

Team Members: Spring 2015 UIF University of Chicago Candidates

Project 2: Introduce examples of I&E in classrooms

The University of Chicago is notorious for its association with the quote "That's all well and good in practice, but how does it work in theory?" The university embodies an ethods of prioritizing theoretical, academic pursuits over the practical applications of the ideas from these pursuits. As such, there is a dearth of entrepreneurial concepts presented in the course work. Science courses typically focus on scientific discoveries conducted in academic and institutional laboratories, and eschew discussion of the real-world applications of research in producing life-saving cures. Companies are occassionally mentioned in the Cancer Biology course, but little elaboration is given on the entrepreneurship involved in developing medicine and treatments.

Petitioning for Increased Discussion of Entrepreneurship in Classes

Mentioning technological developments and startups is doable for most disciplines. In Public Policy courses, there are instances in which it would be useful to bring up budding non-profit organizations and social entrepreneurship startups that seek to make major social impact. In Physics courses, there will be occasions in which it is possible to bring up exciting companies like Tesla or D-Wave, which implement concepts from mechanics, electricity, and quantum physics in their technologies. In Linguistics courses, there are opportunities to mention innovative voice and language recognition technologies that are changing many different aspects of how humans communicate and interface with their electronic devices. Exposure to innovation and entrepreneurial ventures in a student's discipline can have an important impact on them and open up their mind to getting involved in an entrepreneurial career. Incorporating more mentioning and discussion of I&E in classrooms can be achieved by petitioning to professors.

Project Lead: TBD

Goal 2: Help students come up with entrepreneurial ideas and bring them to life

Another common concern amongst members of the student body is a lack of resources that help students who are interested in entrepreneurship come up with new ideas, or ideate. While it is impossible to tell people how to come up with the next billion-dollar technology idea, it is possible to give students a better perspective on what makes good ideas good and help them identify problems and determine the possible solutions to such problems.

Focus Group Discussions for Peer Support and Idea Exchange

The advantage of collaborative, peer-supported discussions is that it brings together groups of people with common interests and aspirations, who will share information and exchange ideas on a specific and focused topic. Young entrepreneurs will be broken down into small focus groups and hold weekly meetings. Although there are many entrepreneurship competitions on campus, such as Phoenix Pitch and 3-day startup, there are not many opportunities for students to receive comments or critiques on their ideas and plans, hence the small group discussions will facilitate peer evaluation and enable students to practice and hone their ideas before any competitions. Developing strategies together with peers will catalyze strategy development for each individual. Through the group interactions, students will learn from each others' perspectives and experiences, and at the same time deepen friendship and encourage creativity. We could also collaborate with Edge UChicago, a student entrepreneurship organization that has more focus on the business and economic side of entrepreneurship, so that we could further broaden the member base to include students from various academic background. 

Goal 3: Provide resources to students to build up their ideas

In the sciences, entrepreneurial ideas often require more than an incubator space with WiFi and desks. Products like medical devices or novel synthetic materials require a lab bench with suitable chemicals and equipment to prototype and test these ideas.

Goal 4: Highlight on-campus entrepreneurship

Another way of strengthening the I&E ecosystem at the University of Chicago is by making the entrepreneurial sucesses of alumni and current students more apparent and creating campus-wide events to celebrate the innovations of the members of the university.

Project 1: Connect alumni entrepreneurs with current undergraduates

Alumni participation is a critical component of the University of Chicago entrepreneurial spirit. The university prides itself on the vibrant community that cultivates many successful entrepreneurs, which led to the success of myriads of startup companies such as Strikingly, GrubHub, Moneythink and many more. By giving students insights from their own experience, alumni can help students better identify and make full use the resources available on campus. Our goal is to connect the broad alumni base to provide networking, mentorship and education opportunities for undergraduate entrepreneurs, so that they can unleash their entrepreneurial dreams with vision, knowledge and support. 

Alumni Entrepreneur Panel and Networking Event

The panel will feature a panel of distinguished alumni entrepreneurs from diverse academic backgrounds, showcasing the myriads of possibilities for University of Chicago graduates. Alumni will share their entrepreneurial experiences in a more personal way, directly addressing questions or concerns from student participants. Students can learn from the challenges and difficulties the alumni have faced, as well as their aspirations and key to success. The primary information can offer a more comprehensive perspective about the entrepreneurial environment, which can enhance students' understanding of specific entrepreneurship topics. The informal and intimate panel session also encourages students to freely join in discussions to mingle with alumni and establish connections. Starting from this or next year, the large-sclae will be organized annually to bring together leaders in the entrepreneurial field to celebrate innovation and creativity. 

Alumni Seminar Series

In complement of the Alumni Entrepreneur Panel event, the seminar series brings successful alumni entrepreneurs who share their personal and professional experiences in a lecture or presentation style. Each talk will emphasize on one specific entrepreneurship topic to set focus on common areas of interest. This program also serves as a continuation of the Science Innovation Program. After equipping students with the necessary entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and mindset, the seminar series seek to provide concrete examples of successful startup business models. Learning real-world examples is imperative to success as students can understand the applications of entrepreneurial ideas and business plans in the market condition and environment.

Related Links

University of Chicago

Annie Zhang

Jonathan Pan

Klevin Lo