The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative at Duke University
The Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative at Duke, founded with a generous gift from David M. Rubenstein in January of 2013, helps convert the knowledge born at the university into tangible action that improves and enriches lives across all strata of society. Our initiative is distinct among university entrepreneurship efforts in many regards, and offers a model and a rationale for entrepreneurship within the academy. Here, we lay out the conceptual underpinnings of our Initiative and highlight activities that exemplify that ethos.
In recent years, entrepreneurship programs have proliferated at the American university. While the popularity of such programs is clear, one might fairly ask how entrepreneurship fits the mission of the modern University. From the liberal tradition of John Henry Newman to the land-grant University of the 19th Century, the relationship of the university with society has changed continuously. Today, most universities accept dual roles of the creation and dissemination of knowledge, in measures that vary as the specific institution. Increasingly, though, the university seeks – and is under pressure – to engage the world around it, to use the University as a means to do well in the world. Thus, for example, Duke University lists “Knowledge in the Service of Society” as an enduring value: “Our work forms an arc, spanning from inquiry through discovery on the one end and translation into practice on the other.” That translation – converting the fundamental knowledge that grows at the University into real things and real actions that have real consequences for real people – is of growing importance to the modern university. And the practice of that translation is entrepreneurship.
It is on this rock – the University as a catalyst that brings ideas to life – that the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative at Duke is built. Our initiative comprises four themes, or pillars. The Education Pillar offers programs for the entire Duke community – from undergraduates to alumni – that consider the nature of innovation and ideation in all fields, the technical aspects of creating and executing a plan for making ideas real, and reflection on successes and failures that enable learning for the future. The Research Pillar considers how best to encourage and enable entrepreneurial activity, at the level of individuals, institutions, and ecosystems. The Translation Pillar provides a host of tools and resources – mentoring and boot-camps, online search tools, legal support and advice, and seed-stage investments through the Duke Angel Network – that enable effective entrepreneurship. And the Social Entrepreneurship Pillar uses entrepreneurship to provide durable solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.