To place the impact of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership in its proper perspective, it is important to consider some of the University of Illinois’ entrepreneurial history.
The University of Illinois, through its prestigious faculty and its illustrious alumni, has consistently played a prominent role over its 143-year history in the development of some of the world’s most transformative innovations. The University of Illinois has educated some of the world’s best known and most successful entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial business leaders. However, until very recently, what was missing was a cohesive and institution-wide approach to entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking per se, and an explicit recognition of the role that innovation and entrepreneurship play in economic development.
Although attention to entrepreneurship had been increasing across campus for some time, it reached a critical mass in 2000, when the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution amending the University of Illinois’ charter to add “economic development” to the three traditional missions of teaching, research, and service. The resolution was accompanied by an appropriation of nearly two billion dollars — several hundred million of which was channeled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to provide new faculty, facilities, and equipment to accelerate discovery in advanced genomics, microelectronics, nanotechnology, petascale computing and the bio-medical sciences. Equally importantly, this amendment to the University’s charter and the state funding that followed unleashed a barrage of new initiatives aimed at capitalizing upon student and faculty creativity and proclivity for revolutionary innovations, strengthening the curriculum with targeted content, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, and eliminating bureaucratic barriers to a more entrepreneurial operation of the University.
The Office of the Vice President for Technology and Economic Development was created in 2000, and the University’s Office of Technology Management was restructured that same year to better accommodate faculty disclosures and accelerate the commercialization of its intellectual property through licensing, strategic partnerships, and startup activity. IllinoisVENTURES, a semi-captive venture fund intended to provide seed funding and leadership for University of
Illinois spin-outs, was established shortly thereafter. Simultaneously, the University partnered with local real estate developers and supporters to build the adjacent Research Park and Enterprise-Works, the University’s first full-service business incubator.
The first three “Ps” of an entrepreneurial revolution were in place: policy, physical plant, and people. The last piece needed was “programs.” Thus, efforts to revamp the curriculum began in earnest.
Driven by alumni and industry demand and cross-campus faculty leadership, the College of Engineering launched its new Technology Entrepreneur Center in January of 2000, an academic unit whose primary purpose was to create courses and co-curricular events with an entrepreneurship focus for students in that college. The Hoeft Technology and Management program, jointly administered in the colleges of Business and Engineering, was endowed ($6 million) in 2004 to educate business and engineering students jointly about product and enterprise development in high technology businesses. Also in 2004 the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences received a $10 million endowment for the Cline Center for Democracy, an interdisciplinary research and public engagement center focusing on democracy and its capacity to harness human and natural resources for the well-being of society. These three programs laid the groundwork for integrated, structural commitments to interdisciplinary collaboration in research, curriculum development, public engagement, and operation that focuses on entrepreneurship.
It was within this climate of unprecedented institutional activity that the University was inspired to compete for a grant from the Kauffman Foundation to create a new organization with a radical mission: to infuse entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking across every academic discipline of the University of Illinois, in curriculum development, in research, and in economic development and public engagement. The objective of this new unit would be to create a truly entrepreneurial university.