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 programssuch 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 experiencesand 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
"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
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
"Entrepreneurshipespecially technological entrepreneurshipis
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
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
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
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 headedstraight 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 goldand, in the
process, just possibly change the world.
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