Wake Forest wins NSF grant to boost entrepreneurship through community partnerships
February 21, 2008
The National Science Foundation has awarded Wake Forest University a grant totaling $596,679 to create a network of private sector, nonprofit and local government partnerships designed to fuel innovation and launch new entrepreneurial ventures.
Elizabeth Gatewood, director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts, and Deborah Best, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will direct the three-year project titled, “Partnerships for Innovation: Creating Academic Community Partnerships: Fostering Innovation and Entrepreneurship in a Liberal Arts Institution.”
Gatewood said the project will build on and formalize a number of existing relationships between the academic community and key players in the Piedmont Triad’s efforts to reshape its economy through innovative new ventures in fields ranging from the life sciences and biotechnology to nanotechnology, new product design and even entertainment.
“This project marks the beginning of a new phase in the development of the entrepreneurship program at Wake Forest,” Gatewood said. “It will enhance the opportunities for students to expand on their classroom learning with hands-on experiences such as internships, shadowing and mentoring programs with established entrepreneurs, workshops, speaker events and a virtual network of experts from whom aspiring entrepreneurs can obtain guidance in market research, designing prototypes, writing business plans and finding funding. Ultimately, these collaborations will result in economic activity, creation of value and greater social well-being.”
In 2004, the Kauffman Foundation selected Wake Forest as one of eight universities in the United States (and the only traditionally liberal arts institution) to receive a $2.17 million five-year grant to fund programs incorporating entrepreneurship in the liberal arts. Since then, 75 undergraduate faculty members from 24 departments have participated in the entrepreneurship program, and about 5 percent of Wake Forest’s 4,300 undergraduate students during the past academic year enrolled in one or more entrepreneurship courses.
“We want to create and sustain an environment that fosters entrepreneurial thinking and action across the entire campus,” Best said. “We at Wake Forest believe that a liberal arts education and entrepreneurial thinking can be mutually reinforcing concepts. The legacy of this project will be realized in programs and infrastructures instituted in liberal arts colleges and universities throughout the country modeled on the best practices that we identify.”
Partnering organizations are the Center for Design Innovation, the Greater Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, the Inception Micro Angel Fund, the N.C. Biotechnology Center, the N.C. Small Business Technology Development Center, the Piedmont Angel Network, the Piedmont Triad Entrepreneurs Network, the Piedmont Triad Research Park, Winston-Salem State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The project’s diverse partnering agencies, most of which are themselves partnerships comprised of several organizations, broadly extend the reach of the initiative and leverage many existing community resources to stimulate new economic activity.
For example, the Center for Design Innovation, formed within the past year as an inter-institutional research center by the N.C. School of the Arts, Winston-Salem State and Forsyth Technical Community College, has been assisting BioBotz, a startup company formed by six Wake Forest students to create educational games, cartoons and storybooks that introduce young children to cellular biology using super-hero characters based on tiny cell structures. Another partner, the N.C. Biotechnology Center, helped develop research data for Aqualutions, a company started by a group of Wake Forest biology and business students to produce diagnostic test kits used by catfish farmers to monitor diseases in fish populations.
“The goal of this program is to establish the infrastructure to provide students from any discipline the experiences, extracurricular education and mentoring to develop the skill sets to be successful,” Gatewood said. “This will be accomplished by establishing a system and structure that creates meaningful knowledge-sharing and learning relationships between industry and academia.”
Fortune Small Business magazine recognized Wake Forest in its 2007 inaugural compilation of “America’s Best Colleges for Entrepreneurs.” The undergraduate program was among the top 24 schools nationwide for cross-campus entrepreneurship education, and the Babcock Graduate School of Management was listed among the 26 best graduate business schools for “blending real-world small-business know-how with top academics.” Universities chosen for the list were not ranked numerically but selected based on extensive interviews and research by the magazine staff.