Entrepreneurship is currently a hot topic and many universities are looking to attract the best aspiring entrepreneurs by expanding course offerings and programs outside of the norm. Entrepreneur.com does a good job of summing up some of these trends in a relevant article.
Many university entrepreneurship programs are funded by endowments or donations from successful alumni. So as a successful alumnus, what can you do to support entrepreneurship education at your alma mater and ensure that your funds will be utilized effectively?
1. Support experiential entrepreneurship programs
Stewart Thornhill, Executive Director of the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies recently wrote about how action-based learning opportunities can set great entrepreneurship programs apart from ones centered more rigidly around the traditional classroom. When funding new programs, be clear that you want your financial contributions directed towards efforts that allow students to build, fail, and try again.
2. Push for campus wide initiatives
Many entrepreneurship programs live only in the business school. This siloed approach does not sit well with one of the key pillars of innovation: cross-disciplinary collaboration. Try and support initiatives that integrate entrepreneurship courses in concentrations outside of business, such as engineering, medicine or journalism. Look to examples like Startup UCLA at UCLA and Longhorn Startup at UT Austin to see how these programs encourage hands-on learning and startup culture campus wide.
3. Share your expertise, not just your money
Your industry expertise can increase the chances of student company creation at your alma mater. The quality of mentoring can make a huge difference for a startup. Young entrepreneurs are more risk averse, but have little experience running startup companies. Adam Toren, co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com, elaborates more about how mentorship is the secret weapon for a young entrepreneur’s success in a related article.
4. Understand campus resources
When supporting new entrepreneurship programs on campus, be sure to understand the current entrepreneurship ecosystem at your alma mater so you can help fund what students need the most. Your alma mater may already have accelerator programs, classes, and various professors that support entrepreneurship activity on campus. If you find that the startup scene at your alma mater is more nascent, do some research on what other universities are implementing in their entrepreneurship programs to get an idea of how your funds could best benefit students.
5. Support student run investment funds.
The idea of a student run investment fund already exists on a large scale. Perhaps the most well known fund is the Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture fund with various locations in the U.S. Many universities also have their own versions of student-run funds which provide seed funding to student startups at various stages of venture development in exchange for zero equity. An example of such funds include the University of Michigan’s commercialization fund which recently invested $90,000 in two student run startups.
6. Hire alumni in your companies.
Another way to support aspiring entrepreneurs is to create opportunities for students graduating from your alma mater. Of course getting a job doesn’t sound entrepreneurially, but some students want to gain work experience before launching a startup company or their skill sets may be better suited for supporting local startup companies instead.