School:University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

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The University of Minnesota is a public research university located in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. It is the oldest and largest campus within the University of Minnesota System and has the sixth-largest main campus student body in the United States, with 48,770 students in 2016-2017, and is broadly organized into 19 colleges and schools.

Student Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship Centers

The Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship is the deparment home of the Entrepreneurship Major and Minor. It houses a faculty-led, student-driven, business hatchery and hosts/sponsors numerous clubs, events, and programs within the Carlson School of Management. It has supported the development of dozens of student start-ups in the last few years.


Science & Engineering: The University of Minnesota is home to some of the most profound science and engineering research professors in the country and the vast majority incorperate opportunities for student research into upper-level and graduate-level engineering and science coursework. Although these may not have a direct relation to entrepreneurship, they foster an innovative mindset amongst the students that participate, and this may eventually lead to entrepreneurial or intrepreneurial ventures in the future.

Entrepreneurial Management: While the Carlson School of Management is largely focused on preparing students to work in corporate environments, many successful start-ups have come out of the program. In turn, the school has invested in a centralized Entrepreneurship curriculum that exposes students to innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) thinking in addition to their traditional business-related courswork. This curriculum covers the breadth of I&E theory with an emphasis on applicability in the upper level classes. The capstone course, Entrepreneurship In Action, provides students with capital to test and start their own venture. At the end of the course, students pitch their fledgling businesses to community investors.

Management of Technology: The Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota has developed both a graduate program, and an undergraduate minor program called MOT or Management of Technology. This course curriculum focus on the escence of entrepreneurship in vastly technical industries, and the managerial skills needed to bring an invention to market. Coursework such as Financial Management for Technology-Based Organizations, Developing New Technology-Products, and Technology Foresight and Forecasting put a highly technical spin on the classic business and entrepreneurship couses offered throught the Carlson School of Management.

Toy Product Design: The Product Design department at the University of Minnesota holds an intro to product design class open to all majors and years. The course is sponsored by an external company; in teams of 5-6, students are given a prompt to ideate, design, and create a fully functioning prototype. This course allows students to develop a variety of skills including design thinking, graphic design, teamwork, shop skills, and presentation. 

Social Applied Entrepreneurship (ACARA):  As Minnesota's sole Land-grant University, the University of Minnesota is called to focus resources toward the solving some of society's pressing problems. ACARA is a unique way to create venture solutions for these issues both in the US and abroad. Housed in the Institute for the Environment, the program is structured around a full series of classes accross a variety of subjects including science, business, and design. The program's objective is to develop solutions that are innovative, scalable, and impactful. The work of students culminates in at the ACARA Challenge, where the most promising venture solutions compete for recongnition and support to carry their venture forward.


BizPitch: Each Spring, the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship hosts a business pitch competition for the most promising University of Minnesota's student ideas. In 2014, over 60 students applied with business concepts ranging from local hops farms to customizable refrigerator magnets. They are first tested through a lengthly application process, and then tried with a 90 second business pitch in front of an auditorium filled with local attourneys, businessmen, potential investors, and other aspiring students. The winner recieves a $1000 check from the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship to help with startup-funding, as well as networking connections from across the state.

The Launch Pad: Recently started by the University of Minnesota Co-Lab idea incubator, Launch Pad is a forum through which students pitch their business ideas to a more focused and  specialized group of panelists from the University and beyond. Modeled after the show Shark Tank, events are held on the first and third friday of each month. Each show has two student ventures. Each is given 6 minutes to disucss their business and their obstacles. Pitches are followed by a respective 20 minutes of constructive conversation. The audience is welcome to approach the presenters afterward with additional opportunities and resources.

Campus Innovation Contest: Sponsored by the University of Minnesota Co-Lab idea incubator, these contests are an opportunity to source student input and ideas to solve pressing issues at the University. The contest started in the Spring of 2014. Security had been a growing issue at the University. The original contest revolved  around  reducing crime on campus. Leveraging an idea submission and voting platform, students published their ideas. The most highly regarded solutions presented at a showcase in front of University officials. Winners received prize money and all finalists received services from Co-Lab. Such contests are planned to continue one during each semester. For the fall of 2014, the contest is championing Operation Excellence to help the school make its processes more efficient and save money.

Minnesota Cup: This is Minnesota's largest and most prestigious business plan contest. Over the last 10 years, the Cup has given away more that $1,000,000 to dozens of businesses. In 2014 alone, more than 1,200 applicants competed in 7 catagories, including catagories  for social and student ventures. While not exclusively a University function, the Carlson School of Management was one of the founding sponsors and continues to offer its services and resources to applicants. Interestingly enough, 37% of all applicants had an University of Minnesota affiliation. Since it's founding, Cup finalists have went on to raise more than $160 million in capital and a handful have been acquired.

Hackathon: The University of Minnesota has a thriving Computer Science and Computer Engineering community, and with that come student, as well as faculty and 3rd party, organized hackathons. These events take place most commonly over the weekends in the winter months, and focus on bringing an innovative or entrepreneurial atmosphere to a very technical study. Participants are presented with a real-world problem that can be solved through unique software developements. One such example is the University's 'Visualizing Neighborhoods' hackathon through the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. The 'hackers' worked on developing software that would more effectively monitor and optimize urban bus routes for inner-city primary and secondary schools. The resulting software was implemented and is in use in Minneapolis today.

10,000 Makes: The University hosts a two day makeathon that invites students from all disciplines to participate. Students are given a challenge in the beginning of the event and are led through the design thinking process to ideate, design, and prototype a solution. At the end of the second day, teams present and demonstrate their process and final solution to judges (faculty representatives across the university) who select the top solution based on creativity, prototype execution, and presentation. 

Innovation and Maker Spaces

DigiFabLab: Within the College of Design's Rapson Hall lies the state-of-the-art prototyping facility which carries the lengthly name 'The Digital Fabrication Laboratory,' shortened to DigiFabLab by it's unique flavor of staff and students. It is a makerspace available only to academic-based projects to which College of Design students have priority. It contains two Stratasys industrial-grade 3D printers, as well as self-serve laser-cutting machines and CNC laithes. It is staffed during regular office hours by a talented full-time technitian. It's main purpose is to assist design students with any design projects that they may come across in their coursework.

Rapson Hall: Second only to the design lab and workshops that lie within it, one of the most vibrant innovation communities at the University of Minnesota exists in the College of Design's Rapson Hall. On any given day, anywhere from a dozen to a hundred bustling design students can be found in it's main atrium. They use the vast space as a staging area for design projects of all shapes and sizes. The hall is often outfitted for presentations or design shows in which students present their capstone projects, and innovative group collaboration is the norm. However, when it comes to student I&E, Rapson Hall lacks the atmosphere of industry applicability as most of the projects are course specific, and not necessarily related to problems found in the real world.

Co-Lab: A student-led idea incubator founded last year through the Entrepreneurship Program's Enrepreneurship In Action capstone. Co-Lab has a dedicated staff of student Fellows who provide services ranging from website design, to graphics, to strategy, and accounting. In addition to helping students develop, start, and scale projects/businesses, Co-Lab sponsors numerous events, such as the Launch Pad and the Campus Innovation Contests,  to promote innovative thinking amongst students.

Anderson Lab: A maker space located in College of Science and Engineering's Keller Hall. This space instills collaboration among students; it consists of a small workshop space including 3D printers, a CNC router, a laser cutter, and a lathe. Some maker events are hosted here, such as 10,000 Makes. 

Student Group

Entrepreneurship Club: Run by students for students, this program brings in two successful entrepreneurs each week to discuss their venture(s), the obstacles they've faced, and the strategies they've used to overcome them. Attendees range from students with a preliminary interest in starting thier own business to those in higher level innovation courses looking to learn more about best practices and get inspired. Each year culminates in a CEO Dinner, where club members and a variety of community figures come together to hear the store of one high caliber speaker at a professional banquet. Past speakers have included  Steve Schussler, the founder of Rainforest Cafe. 

Tesla Works: Engineering students come up with exciting project ideas which they do not have enough funding, time, or manpower to complete. Tesla Works exists to help these students explore the concepts that fascinate them, offering practical help and financial resources to pursue projects that might otherwise be out of reach. The organization is very open and fluid. Students can particpate in any project they choose and are also free to start new ones. Noteable projects include the UMN College of Science & Engineering Light Show, a huge choreographied dipslay of lights and music, and an ongoing effort to create an animatronic bust of University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler. 

Design U: A product design consulting group that partners with local companies and provides services in areas of Research + Strategy, Digital Design, and Prototyping. The group primarily consists of design, engineering, and business students with a variety of skill levels. The mission of the group is to provide students with hands on, real world design challenges. Notable companies partnered with are Planned Parenthood, Bizzy Coffee, and Sezzle. 

Technology Commercialization

The U of M is among the top research institutions in the nation and is a powerful economic engine for the state, creating $8.6 billion in total economic impact annually. 


University scientists often share their data and materials with business partners and other researchers via material transfer and un-funded research agreements. Even more engaging is the school's industry-sponsored research. Administered by the Office for Technology Commercialization (see below), the program is called the Minnesota Innovation Partnership (MN-IP). This new, unique approach to handling intellectual property has been commended nation-wide, including in a blog post by the White House.

For existing patents, there is the Try & Buy program. This allows companies to take available technologies for a “test run” or use them fee-free (if qualified) to test the viability of the innovation for their company. Should the technology prove viable, the company pays the typical fees. The University was one of the first to prelist these royalty rates and Minnesota companies get a 1% discount.

Companies can also do Sponsored Research. Firms highlight what they want studied and can then utilize University resources to conduct their research. Upfront costs are 15,000 or 15% of the research expenditure. A 1% royalty rate is paid out for all resulting revenues.

The Office for Technology Commercialization

The Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC) was founded to get the technologies resulting from research into the hands of the public. They oversee all aspects of technology commercialization at the University, bridging the gap between the lab and the marketplace to connect faculty with companies to achieve results. Each stakeholder has specific needs. To best respond to those needs, the OTC is organized into industry groups, ensuring the right knowledge and experience.

In addition to overseeing research and licensing agreements, the OTC also administers the Venture Center (VC)The VC works with researchers, entrepreneurs, and investors to create companies based on University research. All University-owned Intellectual Property is assessed for compelling disruptive and return potential. Those deemed to have adequate potential are moved into a pipeline. The VC has the capability to help develop a business plan, recruit management, and facilitate the formation of a new, independent company with licensing agreements. In 2013 alone, the U of M spun-off 15 startups, on par with Stanford & MIT.

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