Support for entrepreneurs ‘integral’ to Princeton’s mission, study group says

“It’s about opening the mind and training the character.” — Professor Mung Mung Chiang, chair of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council
“It’s about opening the mind and training the character.” — Professor Mung Mung Chiang, chair of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council
Denise Applewhite/Office of Communications

Riding a surge of interest in entrepreneurship programs and courses, a University committee has issued an ambitious blueprint for “Entrepreneurship the Princeton Way” — and Nassau Hall is listening.

“Entrepreneurship is becoming integral to the University’s teaching and research mission,” an advisory committee created by Provost David S. Lee *99 wrote in a 25-page report. It outlined an approach to “achieve the highest standard of excellence of entrepreneurial activities as a service to the nation and all nations, and enhance the liberal-arts education environment through the entrepreneurial mindset.”

The group was headed by electrical engineering professor Mung Chiang, who will chair the newly created Princeton Entrepreneurship Council. The report called for action in three major areas:

Build a “vibrant ecosystem” of Princeton entrepreneurs.

Create an academic certificate program in “Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Design,” while expanding internships and shadowing experiences.

Provide physical space for entrepreneurs to meet and work together.

The University’s first entrepreneurship course in 1997 was followed by a number of related activities, including more courses, undergraduate clubs, various competitions, an Innovation Forum for faculty and grad students, an accelerator-incubator program, and an Intellectual Property Accelerator Fund for faculty. But much remains to be done, the report said, and many of Princeton’s peers are investing heavily in the field.

In contrast to the goals of some other schools, Chiang said, “we do not strive to generate the greatest number of IPOs or the largest number of jobs,” but rather to enhance the University’s core mission.

“We define entrepreneurs as a mindset, not a job title,” he said. He added that entrepreneurial actions — “the initiation of transformations through risk-taking actions and value-creating organizations” — can take place in a wide range of workplaces, not just at tech startups.

Creating a network of entrepreneurial alumni to support students and faculty is “fundamental and essential,” Chiang said.

He noted that a donation from three alumni — Peter Briger ’86, Gordon Ritter ’86, and a third who asked not to be identified — has created the Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF), which provides up to $100,000 in matching seed funds as well as mentorship from alumni to help the startups of those who graduated in the last five years. The AEF is accepting applications for a second round of funding.

The report also mentions alumni efforts to create a Princeton Band of Angels, an independent organization that would invest in startup companies and encourage networking.

In a written response to the committee’s report, President Eisgruber ’83 and Provost Lee said the group “convincingly argued that ‘entrepreneurial spirit and capability’ are increasingly required for societal service and global leadership” and may help Princeton attract “the best students and faculty, especially in computer science, engineering, and certain scientific fields.”

The University is acting on several recommendations, Eisgruber and Lee said, including approval of a new staff position to support faculty who plan new ventures to bring campus discoveries “into the world for societal benefit.” The University has started fundraising to support other parts of the plan, they said.

The Princeton Entrepreneurship Hub — a rented building offering incubator space for teams with University ties — opened near the campus during the summer. Additional facilities to house entrepreneurial efforts will be considered as part of the strategic planning and campus planning work now underway, Eisgruber and Lee said.