Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs
Keynote address by President John A. Fry
January 30, 2013
Good evening. Thank you so much for inviting to me to join you.
I have to begin by telling you how excited I am to have this conversation with you today of all days. For those of you who don’t know, we made a really big announcement at Drexel this morning.
Come this fall, we will be launching the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel. Thanks to more than $12 million in gifts from the Charles and Barbara Close Foundation, which manages the legacy of a great Drexel alumnus, Charles Close, we’re making a major commitment to entrepreneurship studies.
This will be a freestanding school dedicated to serving our most venture students, and to putting entrepreneurship studies and programming at the fingertips of every Drexel student in every discipline.
This will put us among just two or three universities in the nation to make that kind of commitment to nurturing entrepreneurship. But I feel certain that we won’t be the last, because understanding how to translate ideas into innovation is critical to our future success as an economy and a society.
I’ll talk more about the Close School in a few minutes, because I really need this audience in particular to know about what we’re doing. But I wanted to mention it right up front, to let you know that I’ve been thinking about entrepreneurship all day, and it’s a great privilege to be here with this group of entrepreneurs.
This room is full of incredible role models for our students today, and for the students that we need to attract tomorrow. I’m honored to be able to talk to you for a few minutes, and then I look forward to opening the floor up for questions and discussion, in particular about what we at the region’s universities can do to encourage entrepreneurship in Greater Philadelphia.
I want to start by wishing you a Happy New Year, and congratulations on another great year of programming already laid out.
This organization, and the women in it, have already achieved so much that sometimes it’s hard to imagine there could be another level to reach. But when I saw your theme for 2013, “Elevate Your Game,” I knew that you understood the critical message that drives entrepreneurs everywhere: If you’re not pushing forward, then you’ve already started falling back.
The single most important trait distinguishing a successful entrepreneur is he hunger to see what an idea can become, how much weight it can carry. You are a hungry group, and I love to see that. I know you can and will elevate your games this year, and our region will be better for it.
Let me acknowledge the hard work of your board under the leadership of Jane Hollingsworth. The existence of the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs makes me feel good about the prospects for entrepreneurship in Greater Philadelphia.
Entrepreneurs learn from other entrepreneurs. .That’s a principle that’s driving our efforts at Drexel, and it’s perfectly expressed by your organization.
I’m also pleased to see pioneering women in entrepreneurship joining together to help each other and the next generation. Drexel University, from its founding, was committed to making sure that women had an equal place at the table when it came to the advantages of higher education. And I’m very proud that among the many leadership roles held by women at Drexel, our entrepreneurship studies are being led by Donna DeCarolis, who will be the founding dean of the Close School.
I know Donna’s going to moderate a panel for you in March, and she was instrumental in helping me get this opportunity to speak to you today. She’s been one of the driving forces behind making entrepreneurship one of Drexel’s animating concepts. So thank you Donna, and thanks to the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs.
I’d like to talk a bit about why supporting entrepreneurship is so critical to those of us in higher ed and throughout this region. I had reporters from the Inquirer, the Business Journal and the Associated Press in my office today for a briefing about the Close School, and I think they understand now why we’re focusing on this critical skillset.
At the nation’s research universities, a big part of our mission can be summed up in one word – ideas.
Our mandate is to come up with new ideas about how the world works, and how it could work, and to test those ideas. We’re pretty good at that.
But there’s a critical next step where our track record is mixed. That’s harnessing the potential of an idea to change the world, or at least some small part of it. This is an area where we have to “Elevate Our Game.”
To benefit the economy and society in general, an idea has to be made into a product, or a tool, or a test—something that has a real-world impact. I see that as a moral responsibility for today’s university, to add value both economically and in terms of quality of life. That’s where the skills of entrepreneurship come into play.
Our faculty and students need to be able to recognize and evaluate opportunities, to be nimble in thought and thoughtful in action. They need to know how financial planning, human capital development and negotiation fit into the story of how an idea becomes a product.
To do that, they need the example of leading entrepreneurs. We need to make such examples part of our academic curriculum. That will help our students be successful in the future. And it will help make sure that our own university is pulling its weight in terms of creating solutions for society.
In terms of why entrepreneurship is critical to our region in general, you obviously understand that as well or better than me. That’s part of the reason the Alliance exists, to encourage entrepreneurship as widely as possible to help grow our economy in terms of jobs, revenues and tax base.
There are many success stories here in Greater Philadelphia, but there’s also, frankly, a lot of opportunity to do better. Let me look at one particular industry, life sciences.
I know there’s some wonderful life sciences talent in this room. And it’s an important part of the translational research portfolio we’ve been developing at Drexel, through our College of Medicine, our School of Biomedical Engineering and a number of other complementary colleges and institutes.
In 2009, the Milken Institute analyzed the life sciences in Greater Philadelphia. The results as a whole were excellent: They ranked our overall performance second among all American metropolitan areas. We were number one for current impact, and number three for our innovation pipeline.
That success is based on a few factors: We have a very strong group of major pharmaceutical companies. We have an outstanding university research infrastructure, and Drexel’s proud to be one of the leaders in that category. We have one of the great networks of teaching hospitals. And we have a number of smart, entrepreneurial businesses poised to bring new solutions to market.
Ultimately, 15 percent of all economic activity in our region, and one out of every six jobs, is created by life sciences. That’s a good track record.
However, the one area where we lagged behind in that Milken study was in small business vitality. Of the 11 metro areas included, we were number 9 on that measure. The study cited only modest growth of 21 percent among small firms in therapeutics and devices in the region during the period studied. And that period was actually in advance of the economic downturn.
Now admittedly, I feel that the tide has been turning, as we’ve begun to understand why entrepreneurship is a building block of any industry, and of our economy as a whole.
I know that organizations like yours are making a difference. In particular, you’re widening the playing field so that anyone, any woman or man, can see themselves as a potential entrepreneur.
And that’s exactly what we’re trying to at Drexel as well. We want to structure our academic enterprise so that every student understands that entrepreneurship can, and in many cases should, be a part of what he or she does.
That doesn’t just mean those students who see themselves starting and running their own businesses, although we want to encourage that as well—we want to swell the ranks of your membership, and other organizations like yours. But just as important, we want to turn out graduates who bring an entrepreneurial mindset to whatever they do, whether they go to work in a large organization, where cultures are evolving and structures changing to value “change agents” (which is really just another word for entrepreneur), or they enter a professional field, or they go into public service or choose any other career option.
All of these paths are more easily traveled with a skill set that includes starting new ventures, managing them, assessing them honestly and, critically, engaging others in their ultimate success.
So that brings us, at Drexel, to the establishment of the Close School of Entrepreneurship.
This exciting new venture rests on a three-legged definition of entrepreneurship as, number one, a habit of mind and attitude leading to a skill set that applies to pursuing innovation in business, personal and career contexts; number two, an approach to life built around innovative thinking, calculated daring and proactive behavior; and number three, the process through which an individual or a team creates or recognizes the opportunity to pursue something of value, regardless of the resources available.
Does any of that sound familiar to you? I’m guessing it does.
So what are our long-term goals for the Close School?
First, we want to be sure that the values, behaviors and processes we teach are infused with entrepreneurship as a way to think, learn and succeed across the University, no matter what a student’s major.
Next, we want to have a coordinated approach to entrepreneurship education throughout Drexel. We want that education to complement and enhance outcomes for all of our students, by developing entrepreneurial thinking in the curriculum, and by creating opportunities for entrepreneurial practice. We also want to provide students with a range of ways to engage and live entrepreneurship, depending on their personal level of interest and career ambitions.
Third, we expect the Close School to develop joint undergraduate degrees with other colleges, aimed specifically at creating, for example, entrepreneurial engineers, or graphic designers, or information scientists.
Finally, we want to create a supportive academic and physical environment that encourages the pursuit of student and faculty passions, and the realization of big ideas.
That’s an ambitious set of plans, but it all can be summed up as a way to help students, to coin a phrase, “Elevate Their Games.”
This fall we will start with a focused menu of programs.
We’re planning to host an Entrepreneurship Living-Learning Community. The Living-Learning Community is a very successful residential model that brings students with a common defining interest together in one of our residence halls. We offer them mentorship and programming around that interest, helping them to expand their learning and build bonds that last through their college careers and beyond.
Imagine the power of an entire floor of college students who are studying in a wide variety of fields but connected together by a strong desire to innovate and start new ventures. I expect we’ll see a pretty competitive group. But I also think we’ll see the beginnings of some collaborations that will go in directions far afield from where any of the participants might have gone on their own.
The initial offerings of the Close School will also include a class we’re calling “Launch It.” We’ll select students with fairly well-developed ideas and help them “de-risk” their business models during the course of an entire term. They’ll be able to get insight from their classmates, and work under the watchful eye of an experienced faculty member. And they’ll also get a small amount of “Launch It” Seed Money to help the development process.
Finally, the Close School will allow us right away to ramp up an offering we’ve been slowly building in recent years, the entrepreneurship co-op.
Drexel, as many of you probably know, is renowned for our focus on co-operative education. In The Drexel Co-op, our undergrad students alternate terms in the classroom with six-month periods of full-time, paid employment in their fields. It’s an incredible head start for our students, and one of the main reasons they choose Drexel.
For those students who already suspect that their career path will include entrepreneurial activity, we want to offer the opportunity to focus on, and be paid for, growing their own business. In addition to a paycheck, we’ll offer academic guidance that will help them connect their experience to what they’re learning in the classroom, just as any co-op student is expected to do. I think the entrepreneurship co-op will make us the leader right out of the gate in recruiting the most outstanding young future entrepreneurs in the nation.
The Close School is going to have a lot of highlights beyond great students and great programs for those students. For one, the School will be the new home for our very successful Baiada Institute for Entrepreneurship. The Baiaida Institute is the hands-on business development arm of Drexel’s entrepreneurship infrastructure. It offers mentoring programs for budding business owners. It includes a robust and results-oriented incubator for new businesses. It hosts competitions for business ideas.
In particular, the Baiada Institute fosters the creation of successful technology ventures within the Drexel community. The Institute got its start a decade ago as a center of excellence within our LeBow College of Business, sparked by the vision and generosity of Mel and Mark Baiada.
And just last year, thanks once again to the Close Foundation, we were able to reflect how we want entrepreneurship at the center of everything we plan to accomplish, by elevating Baiada to the status of a University-wide institute.
The Baiada Institute has also been the home for entrepreneurship research at Drexel. I think we’ve achieved some real thought leadership in that arena. And I’m excited for the potential for the Close School to become a hub for the regional entrepreneurship community, just like the Alliance in Women Entrepreneurs is a hub.
There is so much that we can accomplish in partnership with outstanding, community-minded innovators like you. I want to personally extend an invitation to all of you to become involved in the programming at the Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel. I’d like you to meet our students. I’d like you to meet our faculty. I’d like you to join our faculty, as we build a group of adjunct instructors with real-world expertise and insight.
And I’d like for the Close School to be another way for the region’s entrepreneurs to connect to each other. I encourage you to get to know Donna DeCarolis, and to think about how the AWE and its members can work with Drexel and the Close School to further all of our interests.
If you do visit us at Drexel, I think you’ll find that it’s a place where innovation is taking top billing. We’re focused on growing our incredible portfolio of translational research, which is market-ready research that can help society meet real-world challenges.
Two years ago, the Wallace Coulter Foundation recognized our efforts with a $10 million grant that we used to create a $20 million endowment to move biomedical discoveries towards clinical practice. The products that are being developed out of the Coulter Foundation partnership are things like a handheld breast cancer scanner, a wristwatch that monitors blood pressure, several groundbreaking applications of plasma science and a number of other promising inventions.
Drexel is also taking some really unique angles on innovation, things like our new ExCITe Center. ExCITe stands for Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies. With the ExCITe Center, we’ve created a place where science, technology and the arts come together to provide the vision for uniqe new technologies.
I know some of you are part of the really outstanding digital creative economy that has grown up in the Philadelphia region. We think that ExCITe can help galvanize that economy to collaborate with universities, with regional development groups and with the arts and culture sector. There are some great projects coming out ExCITe already, and we’re always looking for new partners.
Last year, we launched a new strategic plan, which focuses heavily on creating an innovation nexus at Drexel for research, tech transfer, and economic development. We’re basing that nexus on a wide variety of connections with industry and entrepreneurs.
We have a team led by Senior Vice President Keith Orris working on finding the links between the many different kinds of research expertise we have, and the needs of industry and government. That process will result in an ever-expanding number of local, national and global partnerships of all kinds.
But it will also be embodied in a very real, physical manifestation we’re developing that we’re calling the “Innovation Neighborhood.”
It all starts with a remarkable wealth of undeveloped or underdeveloped property Drexel has acquired over time that seamlessly links our campus to one of America’s great transportation hubs, 30th Street Station. This is an unprecedented growth opportunity for Drexel, for University City and for Philadelphia.
We can build an innovation cluster as well located as any in the world. To do this, we’ll bring together Drexel researchers, other universities in the region, national and global research partners, established technology companies and definitely many entrepreneurs, along with every other piece of the technology development and commercialization puzzle.
We think this can be the sort of project that transforms a city. It will be a place where people live, learn and work. But its bedrock will be translational research, tech transfer, and economic development. And students, faculty members and entrepreneurs will work together closely, shifting from role to role.
I’ve been involved in university planning and development for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen a chance like this to consolidate a worldwide community of researchers and business leaders who are focused on real-world challenges.
There are going to be many opportunities for entrepreneurs and businesses in all stages of the lifecycle in the Innovation Neighborhood. So when you’re considering your first or your next big move, please come talk to us at Drexel.
I hope I’ve made the case for you in general that Drexel, just like the AWE, is at the heart of the growing culture of entrepreneurship in the region. It’s a topic that’s incredibly important, and I admire all of you for living entrepreneurship, and for committing to, as the saying goes, “Elevate Your Game!”
As I said, we need role models for our students, and for me, this room is the starting point. So let me thank you once again for inviting me, and letting me share a little of my excitement about the Close School, the Innovation Neighborhood and Drexel’s commitment to entrepreneurship.
Now I’m pleased to open up the floor to any questions or comments, and I’m looking forward to picking your brains as well.