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The University's Vital Entrepreneurship Role 2017

July 19, 2017

House Small Business Committee Testimony
President Gregory P. Crawford, Miami University

Chairman Chabot, Ranking Member Velazquez, I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the committee today. I wish to discuss the vital role of higher education in the nation’s entrepreneurial economy. I will describe how universities cultivate business leaders and provide examples of how Miami University promotes entrepreneurship so our graduates don’t just get great jobs – they create them.

In the early 1990s when I earned my Ph.D. in chemical physics, I doubt I could spell “entrepreneur.” Now that I’ve launched two companies based on my research discoveries and helped create start-up communities and eco-systems at three universities, I understand entrepreneurship differently – it reaches far beyond the business world.

I now define entrepreneurship as “seeking potential, seizing opportunity, and synthesizing solutions for societal impact.” I know that relationship-building is key to its success. By this definition, my role as president of Miami University is entrepreneurial, especially in these days with so many pressures to enhance quality and reduce costs. But Miami has been entrepreneurial since 1809. It started as an idea – public education on the frontier – long before the Morrill Act of 1862 – and persevered through setbacks, cash flow problems, and a Civil War to become an institution with an economic impact of $2 billion annually and graduates at the helm of commerce and civic life across our state and nation.

Just to give you a recent example: When Forbes ran an article, written by Peter Lane Taylor, headlined “Why Ohio Is The Best State In America To Launch A Start Up” earlier this year, it featured two of our graduates who joined our Institute for Entrepreneurship as undergraduates and went on to found OROS Apparel.

The entrepreneurial mindset is as vital for success in the 21st century as the pioneering mindset in the 19th century and the manufacturing mindset in the 20th. Once, a typical career was one job at one hometown company with a gold watch upon retirement. Now, disruption occurs at an accelerated pace. Entrepreneurial thinking equips us to respond to such rapidly changing circumstances by evaluating options, imagining possibilities, and taking risks.

Universities are as vital to the economy as start-ups and big businesses, partners in an entrepreneurial ecosystem that thrives when all three sit at the table together. Big business provides financial capital and resources to support start-up development. Start-ups provide the grit, the determination, and the vehicle for new product development. Finally, universities provide start-ups with human capital and innovative research solutions, critical components for successfully executing new ideas. This is what John Kenneth Galbraith meant when he said universities would be as important to the 21st century as banks were to the 20th.

The critical question facing universities is: how do we maximize our role in the 21st-century entrepreneurial ecosystem for the benefit of our state, our nation, and the world? Traditional higher education was designed to make students experts in one subject – to go deep but not broad. That is no longer sufficient in today’s economy, where students need both breadth and depth to sustain them through multiple careers.

That’s why Miami’s teaching philosophy involves the “T-shaped person,” a concept first advanced by the marketing company IDEO. In addition to developing depth in a specific subject, our students gain breadth and experience in entrepreneurial thinking and emerging technologies. We treat such skills as coding, social media, and search engine optimization in the same way we treat writing, math, communication, diversity, and inclusive excellence – fundamental skills that all college graduates, regardless of major, require in the new economy.

The entrepreneurial spirit and philosophy at Miami is embedded in every major – not limited to the business school or science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines. In fact, more than half of our students in entrepreneurial activities at Miami are outside the business school. All our students have rich opportunities to sharpen their entrepreneurial mindset. They can take an entrepreneurship class or comajor, unite the breadth of liberal arts with the depth of discipline knowledge, work in a laboratory with a professor to create value from basic research, and engage the diversity of people and perspectives on campus that make lifetime connections. Exemplary programs offered by the Institute for Entrepreneurship and the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies, called AIMS, draw students from 79 majors across the university, and their graduates are in great demand.

Miami’s universal approach to entrepreneurship exceeds the conventional higher education mindset on experiential learning. We believe there is no substitute for the messy, complex, sometimes risky, tension filled aspect of the compromise-driven world of real business and value creation. No classroom can replicate real projects, with real stakes that require real results. This approach has transformed our traditional internships into interactive apprenticeships where students make quantifiable contributions to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

These apprenticeships provide our students with year-round opportunities to engage in real-life experiences with start-ups and major national corporations. There, they must make the same kinds of choices and trade-offs that you and I have faced in our business careers. We challenge our students to become change agents for both current and future organizations.

Among other things, Miami University has a permanent presence at Cintrifuse in Cincinnati. Cintrifuse is a start-up catalyst, a public/private partnership that exists to build a sustainable tech-based economy for the Greater Cincinnati region. Our students are embedded, full-time, at Cintrifuse and with local start-ups. Miami students are part of actual start-up teams, bringing the depth and experience of our university to help them succeed. Through this partnership, our students have worked directly with such Cincinnati companies as The Brandery, 84.51, Frameri, and Roadtrippers. And our students’ engagement with the Cincinnati start-up ecosystem extends beyond Cintrifuse to all of the local accelerators, including companies like Ocean, UpTech, and Hillman. Our aspiration, if I have my way, is that all students in every major will have this experience.

In addition, Miami offers the San Francisco Digital Innovation Program, which is ranked 5th in the country in Technology Entrepreneurship. In this program, students spend an entire semester living in Silicon Valley. Four days a week, they are in an apprenticeship at a start-up. Like any nascent entrepreneur, they do everything from ideation to product development to cleaning up the office at the end of the day. On the fifth day, they visit executives and thought leaders at companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. We were the first undergraduate program of this kind in the Bay Area, and we have since replicated the program in Cincinnati and Texas.

The results of our approach to entrepreneurship speak for themselves, and we are extremely proud of our students’ successes:

  • 1,468 Miami alumni currently self-identify their job title as a founder or co-founder on the social network LinkedIn;
  • $2.1B in venture funding has been raised by Miami-affiliated high-growth companies since 2011; and
  • 94 Miami-affiliated high-growth companies have exited through acquisition since 2011.

Universities have an important role to play in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We can be critical players as the testing ground for the next generation of innovators. This involves not only focusing on what happens in the classroom but also giving students the breadth of knowledge in entrepreneurial thinking and emerging technologies necessary to thrive in any career. That includes opportunities for invaluable real-world experience that will prepare them to create their own business or excel in one.

I will end with this statement: Training in entrepreneurship provides both tangible and intangible outcomes. Universities often benchmark their graduation class by counting those with jobs six months after graduation – at Miami that number is >95%. Beyond that, we want to be known for those graduates who create jobs for others, sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of jobs. That we can measure.

There is also a certain intangible beauty about the entrepreneurial mindset. No matter what your major, whether you become a doctor, congresswomen, social worker, scientist, teacher, that mindset empowers you with the capacity to accept failure with optimism rather than discouragement; the intellectual courage to try something no one else in the world has tried; the unity to gather a team and translate an idea from concept to product. No matter what field you choose to pursue after graduation, optimism, courage, and unity are personal virtues all employers and industries value – and Miami University will empower you with those characteristics.

Thank you for allowing me to present the University’s vital entrepreneurship role in the 21st Century, I look forward to your questions.