Technology and Entrepreneurship
By Grace Lien, AEL Intern
As a Steve Miller Fellow at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership (AEL), Janet Bercovitz is a coordinator of the AEL Faculty Fellows program.
For this associate professor of business administration (BADM), entrepreneurship became an interest after seeing a lack of communication among the staff at her first job out of college.
“I worked at a company where there was a great split between marketing and the lab; there was a bit of a disconnection,” Bercovitz said. “I came out of that experience thinking that you needed someone who understood what was going on in the lab and who also understood what was going on in the marketing department to bridge that gap.”
Bercovitz decided to return to her alma mater – University of California at Berkeley, where she had graduated with a B.S in Organic Chemistry- to pursue an M.B.A. and PhD degrees.
“My advisor was Oliver E. Williamson, who won the Nobel Prize in 2010,” Bercovitz said. “He looked at a lot of issues in terms of the boundaries of firms - when do you make things yourself, when do you buy things, when do you outsource, and it all has implications for how contracts should be structured.”
Bercovitz started doing research projects on technology transfer upon completing her doctoral degree.
“Technology transfer itself is very connected to entrepreneurship,” Bercovitz said. “A lot of technology developments are from universities and technology transfer is about bringing technology out of universities, often to start companies.”
From her former days of writing business proposals as a technology consultant to her technology transfer research as a professor, one of the areas that intrigues her most about entrepreneurship is the growth aspect.
“There are many firms that die starting up, while others grow rapidly,” Bercovitz said. “So it is about understanding how you manage growth as an entrepreneurial firm.”
Bercovitz currently teaches BADM 596, Entrepreneurship for Professional Scientists, a course in the professional science master’s program that focuses on how to start and grow a business.
“It’s part of a new program for science majors who want to get a business exposure; they take several modules and entrepreneurship is one of them,” Bercovitz said. “A good number of the students do think that down the road they’d like to be entrepreneurs and run their own businesses. Some of them think that they might want to start out in the technology field and build a business model for a faculty member without necessarily wanting a faculty job.
Bercovitz said that when compared to other traditional business classes where theories are often the main lesson focus, the entrepreneurship class requires a balance of applying both theories and practical experience. For Bercovitz, the primary goal of teaching the course is for students to realize that entrepreneurship can be a career path.
“There are different ways to get into being an entrepreneur, and there are different career paths you can take to become an entrepreneur,” Bercovitz said. “The class allows you to get the exposure to that possibility.”
As for her own entrepreneurial career path, Bercovitz said in the future she’d like to invest in a start-up company.
“I’d like to get more involved as an angel and get involved with people that are starting their own companies and the financial side,” Bercovitz said.
Bercovitz said she views herself as an entrepreneur in perspective who’s working in academia.
Despite the number of entrepreneurial faculty at the University of Illinois, Bercovitz said a problem remains.
“We have a challenge in that we have a lot of great technology that is the core seed of a lot of entrepreneurial firms, but there is a challenge in keeping them in Illinois.”
One solution, Bercovitz said, is examining the infrastructure in need and continuing to build across the campus a community of faculty that is entrepreneurial in itself and have entrepreneurial interests in what they teach and what they study.
“To be an academic you’ve got to be an entrepreneur,” Bercovitz said.
Entrepreneurial course taught by Professor Bercovitz
BADM 596, Entrepreneurship for Professional Scientists
Focuses on how to start and grow a business. The first part of the course concentrates on opportunity evaluation and business plan development. The second part explores the strategic challenges of managing growth and realizing value.
Visit Course Catalog website for course availability
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About Professor Bercovitz
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