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Yale University Student Priorities

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Overview

Yale has increased its investment in innovation, largely spurred by a grant from Joseph Tsai to create Tsai CITY, the on-campus center welcoming diverse students to pursue innovative ventures, projects, and initiatives. However, one of the main barriers to taking that first step to focused innovation is a perception of innovation as starting a company. Another hypothesis is that students' fear of failure poses another barrier to trialing innovation and creation. We aim to tackle these challenges through the following strategic priorities.

Strategy #1: De-risking the pursuit of innovation and new ventures 

Yale students generally do not like taking risks, so we need to find a way to encourage risk-taking. The top 15% of students from many schools, Yale included, are swept away to work in New York and consulting and financial companies. These are the students who are most likely to succeed with their own businesses. These are the smartest people that you want to be working on the biggest problems in the world. Instead, rational thinking about stability and security has prevented entrepreneurship from being a valid goal that they strive for. 

One opportunity for de-risking is providing course credit to students who pursue their own ideas. In the Yale School of Management (SOM), for example, students can take Startup Founders Practicum to earn course credit for working on their own venture. There is also a class offered called "Making it." Additionally, Tsai CITY offers a semester-long accelerator in which teams receive both funding and guidance to build out their ventures. Having Innovation Advisors (IAs) who have gone through the process guide teams in the accelerator can make students feel safe when they're starting a new company.

Also at SOM, the Global Social Entrepreneurship (GSE) course allows students to partner with global non-profits and for-profits to tackle real-world problems. These kinds of guided entrepenuership classes and clubs help to ease people into the idea of innovating. Successive failures can be demoralizing, especially for younger students, so these kinds of activities are especially useful for undergraduates, or anyone who might be exploring innovation and entrepreneurship for the first time.

Strategy #2: Creating a Support Network for Those Pursuing their Ideas

Leaders often run into the same problems in very different situations and environments. It would be a powerful tool to have a group of students who regularly meet to discuss these general leadership problems and how to fix them. This can be in the form of something as simple as a weekly or bi-weekly workshop (e.g., SOM's Startup Club's weekly workshop), or in something as formal as a leadership forum. Seniors students know the ins and outs of the school (e.g., where funding can be found, fastest ways to get approval, who to talk to for outside sponsorships etc.) can pass this information along to avoid other students re-learning something that has already been attempted and discovered.

Incorporating alumni into the system would make it even more valuable because they have experience from outside Yale that they bring to the table. Several of the students who we spoke with mentioned they chose thier current careers based on alumni or faculty mentors who had done similar careers.

Strategy #3: Creating Entry Level Opportunities for Entrepreneurship

Providing a way for all, even someone with no experience, to get involved in innovation is important for gaining new students and retaining them throughout their time at Yale. We need to find a way to stimulate opportunities for freshmen and sophomores in Yale College, or first years in the graduate programs, that will work with their limited skillset and enable them to create. This could come in the form of participating in day-long design and innovation sprints. It could also look like instigating small internships for students either at Yale or in early-stage startups such that students can have the opportunity to 'taste' entrepreneurship and innovation.

Strategy #4: Give Students More Opportunities to Innovate

If Yale can somehow make students less busy with coursework, they can encourage students to spend that free time innovating. Almost everyone I talked to said they would innovate and think big if they had time to do so. 

Google values this kind of "free time" very highly. Every employee is given 20% time, a time where they can work on thier own ideas that may or may not directly relate to their work. If we consider a student's full schedule, 20% would be a significant number of hours. 20% is approximately one class per semester here at Yale, and we think that there should be required entrepenuership, innovation, or independent work class. This is a new kind of thinking that should not be left out of a liberal arts education simply because it is new. 

Strategy #5: Teach Students the Basics of Entrepreneurship

Intro micro-economics, a basic overview of rational thinking, is a fundamental course in an undergraduate's Yale Education. An equivalent style class for innovation would be a strong step towards changing the way our campus looks at innovation. In SOM, for example, students are required to take "Innovator." However, this class does not occur until Spring semester 2, meaning students are left without any concrete training related to innovation and entrepreneurship for the frst 6 months of their limited 2-year education. 

Strategy #6: Increase the Reach of Student Sharing

There is opportunity to create more cross-school content and programming that allows students to share their work as well as learn from the work of their peers. In SOM, this occurs in a fragmented way. It might occur during a lunch session in the Social Impact Club. Or it might happen in a classroom. In the college, there are events like 2019's "Chun Challenge for Change," a pitch night in which the Dean of Students judges students' ideas related to solving the most proessing challenges impacting students.

One opportunity could be creating a podcast on which we host a weekly Q&A/background with a student founder. This enhanced reach could help demystify the belief that there is a high barrier to becoming a "founder" or launching a "venture."

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