School:North Dakota State University

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Innovation and Entrepreneurship

NDSU continues to advance in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship in many different areas of the institution. Since the inception of the Technology Incubator in 2007, numerous companies have started in the space and have grown to be multi-billion dollar companies solving many of the worlds greatest concerns related to technology, health, and food security.

NDSU's 'Innovation 'Challenge competition is the university's most advertised effort for entrepreneurship and innovation. The 5-month annual program focuses on student innovation teams, culminating in a public exhibition and panel judging of ideas. Students form teams of their own volition and work on ideas wholly their own; the only faculty involvement is a required faculty mentor, the precise role of whom is up to the individual team. Seminars, brown-bag lunch presentations, and boot camps are peppered in through the duration of the program, allowing students to learn from industry and startup veterans alike. At the end of the judging week, a keynote speaker is brought in to network and speak to students. $27,000 is distributed amidst winning teams, to be spent however the students wish.

NDSU University Innovation Corps is a student lead club that helps to connect students to the innovation that is on campus. The club provides a stimulating environment to encourage students to pursue innovation on campus, whether it be in the form of a competition, or helping make change on campus. This club allows UI Fellows to get connected with other students on campus who also want to help improve innovation.

After several years of a collaborative 'Entrepreneurship Certificate' from NDSU and the University of North Dakota, NDSU is now able to offer this solely on their campus based on the growth of academic offerings connected to entrepreneurship. This certificate is earned upon completion of five 2 & 300 level entrepreneurship courses. The certificate is offered through the College of Business and is open to any major. There are also several scholarship opportunities available from the Larson Foundation to enroll in this course.  In earning the certificate, students can expect to learn about intellectual property, management, marketing, accounting, design thinking, and venture capital- all with the twist of being specifically designed for providing students with the most important areas of those fields they'll need to thrive in a start-up.

NDSU is a "Student Focused, Land Grant, Research University". Students are provided opportunities to perform undergraduate research, should they be proactive enough to seek out the correct resources. While this research is certainly innovative, the objective of much of the research is not explicitly to teach the students innovative or entrepreneurial thinking- it is to perform research and generate data. How much the students learn to be innovative themselves in these environments depends on the student in question. Efforts are also hampered by many departments closing off lab space to other majors. This is changing slowly and resources are expanding. For example, the library just obtained a new Makerbot 3-Dprinter available to all majors at the rate of $3 an hour. We are also working on opening up lab access across majors. 

The Bison Microventure is a program that brings students from multiple disciplines- primarily Engineering and Biosciences but not exclusive of other majors- together to solve problems and develop a product. The group, structured into 5 separate teams of 2-3 students each, provides students the opportunity to lead and manage their own de facto mini-research teams, complete with all of the resource, expertise, and intellectual property responsibilities that come with it. BµV has been successful in generating multiple patent disclosures, numerous presentations at national events, and victories in local innovation competitions. While there have been recent vacancies in faculty, the university is working hard to fill the gaps and start this program up again.

NDSU is fortunate enough to be located in a community with a strong innovative culture. There are a number of events such as TedX, Health Pitch, and a large number of events put on by Emerging Praire such as startup weekend, start up drinks, one million cups and many others.


Faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Aside from tenure and contractual requirements, innovation and entrepreneurship is not, to the writer's knowledge, widely promoted to faculty. The writer wishes to note that there is a growing movement on campus within faculty and leadership that hopes to change the current mindset- a movement that will no doubt find immense value in the findings of the UI fellow program and the landscape canvas. This movement gained great strength with a series of demonstrations of support, vocal and in action, by the University President and Provost. NDSU's innovation atmosphere, I-Challenge, and select outstanding research teams have recently been mentioned consistently in the president's 'State of the University' addresses.

Some faculty members are directly involved in startups at the NDSU Research & Technology park. These projects are not university driven- they are done on the faculty's own time.

Faculty are encouraged to document and file all intellectual property they generate, some of which is forwarded to the TTO and processed.

Within the College of Business, the NDSU Center for Entrepreneurship and Family Business provides substantial support for faculty members working on entrepreneurship research projects. With an endowed chair to lead this area, and funding for faculty fellows, the support is long-lasting for ongoing innovation amongst our faculty. Students are also able to participate in this center by putting into practice what they learn in the classroom.

University Technology Transfer Function

NDSU maintains a Technology Transfer office through the NDSU Research Foundation. Through the Research Foundation, faculty staff and students may file invention disclosures. These disclosures are reviewed by staff and, if determined patentable, the foundation and inventors will move forward on patenting the device, idea, or innovation- it is of note that the NDSU TTO does not discriminate or target to a specific type of innovation or inventive idea. The TTO will then attempt to license the idea- revenue from this is split between the TTO, NDSU, the inventor's department, and the inventors themselves. No particular priority is given to staff or students, individual revenue share is based solely on contribution to the project. Inventors can expect to split ~30% of the total licensed revenue between themselves.

In the event the TTO rejects the idea, NDSU releases ownership of the intellectual property to the inventors who are free to file patents on their own and thus own full share.

NDSU IP Policies are available here:  

The NDSU TTO, to the knowledge of the UI fellow penning this, has not made any particular student-aware effort to promote the development of intellectual property on campus. It is not yet as proactive as certain other programs around the country- the inventors are expected to come to the TTO, not the other way around.

University-Industry Collaboration

North Dakota State University has become a leader in collaboration with industry in the region and truly the nation. With over 39 million acres in the state and nearly 90 percent of ND Land area is in farms and ranches. As the number one producer of honey and dry navy and pinto beans, and providing more than 90 percent of the nation's canola and flax seed for the country, North Dakota relies heavily on the research generated through North Dakota State University to increase production, reduce diseases in plants and animals, and create new plants that can thrive in our climate. There continues to be numerous partnerships with industry as precision agriculture grows and opens doors for North Dakota to truly feed the world. In 2022, a ̩one-million dollar grant was awarded from the USDA for NDSU to partner with Grand Farm which will advance technology and research within agriculture.

All engineering majors complete what is known as a 'capstone' or senior design project. This project is commonly backed financially by a local industry presence in the aim of solving a particular problem. Students form small group teams and are given one-two semesters to prepare and present a solution to the problem as best as they can. The process is assisted by regular interaction (personal and digital) with the host company as well as reporting to the student's faculty capstone mentor. It is of note that while the program does not explicitly require an innovative solution to the given problem, the use of students to provide a new, fresh way of thinking is one of the value-added services of the program for the host company.

Occasionally, students will form capstone groups with the intent to develop and market their own project. In this case, funding and resources will be limited only to donations and grants that the students and mentor can acquire from donor companies and grant programs- generally a tight budget. NDSU's engineering program is not structured to prepare students to start and run their own firms and thus, while not completely unheard of, this practice is fairly uncommon.

The College of Business offers a program known as 'Student Consulting Teams.' These teams offer small business in particular the opportunity to receive the aid of students to assist and council those in their journey- the students, of course, receive experience and knowledge in return. Students are chosen by application and are not automatically assigned to a team. Instead, the student is contacted when a project that suits their experience, interest, and expertise becomes available. Through this method, assigning students with irrelevant knowledge or lack of interest can be mitigated. While this program is not explicitly innovative or entrepreneurial in nature, it does provide valuable assistance to those looking to engage in those activities in the form of expertise they may not otherwise possess.

Regional and Local Economic Development Efforts

The growing list of regional and local economic developments includes Ignite, which is a collaboration between the Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Corporation to help resolve the workforce shortage that has been constant in our state. NDSU is heavily involved with helping resolve this concern. Campus FM is also a part of this initiative which connects the local college campuses with the culture of the community to help attract and retain talent to this area.

InnovateND, put on by the North Dakota Department of Commerce, is the largest and most public program for assisting in economic development via startups and innovation- it says so right in the name. The purpose of InnovateND is to provide a full kit of assistance to an idea- planning, investing, market research, etc... all of this is assisted and counseled by connections through InnovateND. It is, of course, still up to the entrepreneur to do the grunt work. In an effort to increase the utility and usefulness of the program, InnovateND recently made a key change to their program, shifting from a 'venture competition' to an educational and entrepreneurial experience.

Start-up Weekend, a 72 hour event focused on rapid creation, maturation, and launching of business concepts. It targeted primarily at application/service development, as 'engineered' ideas generally require far more time and work to become market-viable.

The Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation focuses on the 50,000ft view of developing Fargo/Moorhead as a whole. While it may not get involved in nurturing any specific business, what it does do is work to provide a vibrant and growing environment ripe for business creation and expansion. While this may not sound quite as flashy to an entrepreneur-to-be, it is nonetheless extremely important to ensure startups have the ability to survive.

Funding and support is not bursting from the seams from the university directly for innovation but it is available in many areas in the community and state. Grants such as InnovateND are available and local places such as the Fargo Startup House, found at offer, offer a place where innovators can live for at least six months for free with the only stipulation being to work full time on their start up. The Fargo Startup House also offers memberships to CoCo, a collaborative working space that is partnered with Google for Entrepreneurs. CoCo can be found at: 

The Prairie Den is one of Fargo's open collaboration spaces as it has been taking on the corner of two of the busiest streets in downtown Fargo. The region has been referred to as the miniature Silicone Valley and the inhabitants of the den are justifying that term. Simply opening space for professionals to work and bounce ideas off of each other has proven effective, it recently hit a membership milestone and has proven itself an asset to the Fargo Community. 


Take-Away message: NDSU, located within Fargo, ND has become a place where innovation occurs and a true feeling of entrepreneurship is alive and well. Between the robust collaborations related to engineering and agriculture and the technology connected to the Federal Grand Sky project an hour north of Fargo, North Dakota is poised to become a leader in the nation with heavy support from federal, state, and private entities.

Landscape Canvas

Project Pitch Videos

Fall 2015 Cohort - [[|]]

Fall 2014 Cohort -

Fall 2017 Op-Ed Article

Related Links

North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University Student Priorities

University Innovation Fellows

Fall 2022

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Cailin Shovkoplyas

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Fall 2017:

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Fall 2016:

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Spring 2016:

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Fall 2015:

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Fall 2014:

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Fall 2013:

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Information coming soon.

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