Entrepreneur of the Year

Entrepreneurs to Watch

 


OUT-OF-THE-BOX THINKING

One of the most important things Rensselaer can do, says Rice, is make sure all students are prepared for an entrepreneurial future. That could mean founding a company or recognizing the importance of a new technology to a multinational corporation.
 Led by the Severino Center, new and expanded activities will build on strong existing programs—such as the Incubator Center, the business plan competitions, the Kauffman Fellows Program, the annual Entrepreneur of the Year celebration, and a robust array of courses, internships, and practical experiences—and infuse even more entrepreneurship opportunities into programs in all five schools.
 "Technological entrepreneurship doesn't fit in a box," says Jack Wilson, J. Erik Jonsson '22 Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Severino Center. "It's only when you plug management skills and scientific or technical expertise together that you get technological entrepreneurship."
 Wilson brings an important perspective to the center. A physicist, he has an international reputation for developing innovative computer-enhanced educational software and spearheading Rensselaer's interactive learning initiative. Co-founder of LearnLinc, he is also an information technology entrepreneur in his own right.
 "Understanding the science is very important. You have to know what's happening in the labs, what's coming along so you can alert the entrepreneurs to the technologies that will change our lives," Wilson says. "That's what's missing in many entrepreneurship programs. They can teach you what it's like to be an entrepreneur, but not how to connect to the future of technology."
 "After 20 years, we have a highly evolved infrastructure and curriculum to support technological entrepreneurship," Rice says. That infrastructure includes the Incubator Center and the Rensselaer Technology Park, a 1,250-acre tract in North Greenbush where 50 companies with 2,000 employees now occupy 21 buildings.
 Although many entrepreneurship initiatives reside in the Lally School, they were not developed just for business students, Rice says. Programs like the student business plan competition are open to all Rensselaer students. "There's a very popular technological entrepreneurship second discipline in the IT program. And we offer both a two-course sequence and a four-course concentration in entrepreneurship for students in all the schools."
 "Entrepreneurship—especially technological entrepreneurship—is by definition a cross-disciplinary endeavor. And that's something we do very well here," Rice says.
 That trend will become even more pronounced as new curricula emerge.
 Debbie Kaminski '73, director of core engineering and associate professor of mechanical engineering, aeronautical engineering, and mechanics, is working with Stitt and Rice on a new bachelor's degree called Engineering and Entrepreneurship. It will be offered jointly by the School of Engineering and the Lally School of Management and Technology in the fall of 2000 pending approval by Rensselaer's curriculum committees and New York state.
 "Engineering and Entrepreneurship majors will take the same core engineering sequence that all engineering students take in their first two years. In their junior and senior years they will also build an engineering concentration that will allow them to develop depth in an engineering specialty. But they will take fewer engineering courses than an engineering student would because they'll also receive grounding in management," Kaminski explains.
 The purpose of the program, she says, is to equip a student with the strength and problem-solving ability of an engineer and the management savvy needed to understand the market and what it takes to turn an innovation into a commercial success.
 "This is the dream curriculum for the person who yearns to start a techie business one day," she says. It's also perfect for the person in a large company who wants to specialize in new product ventures or to work in marketing and sales of very innovative products or in strategic planning.

LAUNCHING THE NEXT SUPERSTARS

Information technology represents an enormous potential for entrepreneurial activity, Severino says. And because it is also an area where Rensselaer has established a stronghold, IT will be the focus of activity in the Severino Center.
 Not surprisingly, the Incubator Center is full of IT ventures. "Right now the whole software industry, particularly Internet-based software, is growing really fast," says Bela Musits '75, director of the Incubator (see, also, page 25). "We have several companies in that domain and they are seeing tremendous growth."
 No one knows just how big the World Wide Web is now or where it's headed. A study published this July in the journal Nature estimated that in February 1999, the searchable Web consisted of 800 million pages, up from 320 million pages in December 1997.
 But if you look at the Forbes billionaires list again, you'll see one place the Web is headed—straight to the bank. Priceline.com and eBay catapulted their founders from nowhere into the top 50 this year.
 The exhilarating, volatile world of technological entrepreneurship is home to dozens of Rensselaer alumni, faculty, and students who are caught up in the quest to turn their vision into gold—and, in the process, just possibly change the world.


 

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