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Robert Chernow defines entrepreneurship as a process by which an individual develops an idea and applies creativity, initiative, and innovation to transform that idea into something that creates new value. “It’s a way to think, a way to learn, and a way to succeed,” he says.

On the Leading Edge of a National Trend
Colleges and universities around the country are increasingly taking a similar approach, with significant growth in entrepreneurship education in the last two decades, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a national philanthropist organization based in Kansas City, Mo., that promotes entrepreneurship education.

“Entrepreneurship across the curriculum is the fastest-growing field of study,” says Paul Magelli, a Kauffman scholar-in-residence who compiled the “Census of the Status of Entrepreneurship in American Higher Education: 2006.”

According to the foundation, more than 1,600 colleges offer courses in entrepreneurship, up from 1,050 in the early 1990s, and from 300 schools in the 1980s. At least 300 four-year higher education institutions now offer courses designed for students not enrolled in the business school.

Fostering entrepreneurship is one of the main thrusts of The Rensselaer Plan, the Institute’s blueprint for success. The plan calls for infusing understanding and encouragement of entrepreneurship throughout all five academic schools and student programs, and cultivating a campus culture that motivates students and graduates to pursue commercialization and enterprise-building activities.

Chernow joined the Institute in January as its first vice provost of entrepreneurship to lead the efforts in integrating the study, research, and practice of technological entrepreneurship across the curriculum.

A highly seasoned entrepreneur, Chernow formed the first of two companies, Corporate Health Strategies in New Haven, Conn., after his fishing co-op venture in Brazil. The move would take him into a 21-year career in the health-care industry, where he specialized in developing new technologies for data analysis. By the time he sold the company to Metropolitan Life three years later, it had 500 employees and had grown to $50 million in revenues.

Chernow also was founder and president of Educational Services for Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit organization established in 2004 that assists universities in shaping their entrepreneurship initiatives. He served as senior vice president and head of entrepreneurship programming at the Kauffman Foundation, where he worked with more than 30 universities around the world, as well as women and minority organizations and venture capitalists, to expand programs.

“I’ve worked with a number of schools around the country that were interested in cross-campus entrepreneurship, and after also interviewing hundreds of entrepreneurs as part of my research, my perspective has been greatly expanded to view entrepreneurship as an integral, campuswide activity,” Chernow says.

“No campus program is likely to be successful without support at the highest levels. In this regard, Rensselaer is leading the way by having created an entrepreneurship position at the provost level.”

Chernow defines entrepreneurship at Rensselaer as a process by which an individual develops an idea and applies creativity, initiative, and innovation to transform that idea into something that creates new value, which in turn creates new opportunities. Widely practiced at Rensselaer, it is reflected in commercial, scientific, technological, social, and cultural achievements. “It’s a way to think, a way to learn, and a way to succeed,” he says.

By leveraging its core strengths in innovation and creative thinking across all schools, Chernow believes that Rensselaer will become the premier university in technological entrepreneurship with global reach and impact.

Chernow has been impressed by the breadth of entrepreneurship activities already taking place in the classrooms on campus. Through programs such as Product Design and Innovation (PDI) and the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Lab (MDL), and courses like Inventor’s Studio and Introduction to Engineering Design, the spirit of creativity and innovation exists at Rensselaer. The vision, he says, is to link and coordinate them.

“The PDI program is one of many opportunities, offered by the School of Engineering in collaboration with a number of other schools and departments, that gives students the experience of a professional engineer,” says Alan Cramb, dean of engineering. “Engineers today need to understand not only classical and novel engineering principles, but also aspects of management, business, and economics.”

Robert Chernow

Robert Chernow, vice provost for entrepreneurship.

The Lally School of Management & Technology, which has traditionally served as the academic center for entrepreneurship at Rensselaer, is working to help expand entrepreneurial activities across the disciplines. “The walls between Rensselaer’s departments and schools, certainly compared to other academic institutions, are very low,” says David Gautschi, dean of the Lally School. “And so, we have consciously worked with this to build formal collaborations across campus with the goal of eliminating these walls altogether.”

This year, for the first time, students in any major during their sophomore or junior year will be able to apply for a five-year master’s program in technological entrepreneurship and commercialization.

“The main concept behind this new multidisciplinary model is for students to have a background in management and at least one technical or scientific field,” Gautschi says. “To compete in today’s world as a technological entrepreneur, students have to acquire a breadth of skills as well as a depth of knowledge in a particular discipline so that the basis of product development is firmly planted.”

Initially, the program began as a collaboration with the School of Engineering, but rapidly expanded as a campuswide initiative. “Every single school wanted to be involved in this program,” Gautschi says.

Since its founding in 1824, Rensselaer has been known for its entrepreneurial drive and success. With rapid technological change and a global marketplace transforming the world, Rensselaer is adapting to stay true to its original purpose of transferring scientific discoveries and advancing technologies into practical applications — which translate into sustainable enterprises and lucrative business opportunity.

The university’s world-class incubator, the Rensselaer Technology Park, and the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship continue to be national models. Together, they provide resources for those who strive to combine technological know-how with business savvy.

“Rensselaer has a strong track record of students across disciplines working together to combine their creative passion in devising new technologies with business concepts in class,” says Gautschi. “They then move on to create new companies and products in the incubator. As they gain traction in the marketplace, many eventually move their businesses to the Rensselaer Technology Park, where they can continue to take advantage of educational, research, and other university resources.”

That’s what longtime entrepreneur and Rensselaer Trustee Paul Severino ’69 was motivated by when he and his wife, Kathleen, contributed $5 million in 1999 to endow the center, which was established in 1988. An engineer and computer-networking pioneer, Severino launched Interlan, one of the nation’s first local area network companies, in 1981 and Wellfleet Communications in 1986, also one of the first market-leading Internet router companies. He now serves as chairman of the Massachusetts Technology Development Corporation, a Massachusetts economic development venture capital firm.

“The Severino Center in conjunction with the university’s technology and research base along with the incubator is an entrepreneurship model that works very well for Rensselaer,” Severino says. “With the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies now in place and the tremendous increase the Institute has seen in funded research, we continue to build on that model.”

“It’s the same model that has worked for Silicon Valley, and has worked for the MIT-Boston area. It works for Austin, Texas,” he adds. “It’s a model of a very strong technological university that generates opportunities for entrepreneurs. And, that attracts investment and venture capital for not only Rensselaer but for the entire Capital Region.”

Working closely with the Incubator and the Technology Park, the Severino Center acts as the academic bridge between students and business opportunity, providing the infrastructure and advice to start, run, and finance new high-tech ventures.

Among its robust array of courses, internships, and practical experiences are the popular Tech Valley Collegiate Business Plan Competition for Rensselaer and other area college students, and an annual venture forum that brings in venture capitalists and senior-level executives to hear presentations by early-stage companies in the incubator. There’s also the Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship Seminar Series and the annual William F. Glaser ’53 Entrepreneur of the Year celebration. Through the center, the university also offers the Herman Family Fellowship for Women in Entrepreneurship.

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