“Do we realize the entrepreneurial value of the great treasures we have on campus?”
Entrepreneurial milestones were the theme of Paul Magelli’s presentation in late January that launched the Lunchbox Lecture Series sponsored by the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership where he is the director.
Entitled “Are Universities Entrepreneurial Organizations? A 50-Year Perspective,” Magelli’s talk emphasized past entrepreneurial efforts at the University of Illinois and observed that the initiatives were rarely considered entrepreneurial at the time.
Magelli defined an entrepreneur as a person who “transforms an idea into an enterprise that creates value.” This broad definition is open to a number of interpretations and Magelli highlighted several entrepreneurs who launched ventures that are not generally considered “valuable” in the monetary sense usually associated with entrepreneurial activity. He cited Dr. Harris Fletcher, who developed the extensive collection in the University of Illinois library of the works by John Milton, the 17th Century British poet. Although a humanist, Fletcher was, said Magelli, an entrepreneur by virtue of his efforts to establish the resource.
In the past, the University was a thriving center of entrepreneurial activity. When Gerardus t’ Hooft, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, visited Illinois to give a talk on the five main influences on international business in the 21st century, Magelli took him on a campus tour to visit the places where University of Illinois faculty had discovered or created the same influences:
- W. Edwards Deming’s inroads into the understanding of quality.
- Two-time Nobel Prize winner in physics John Bardeen’s invention of the transistor, which started the revolution towards miniaturization.
- The Mosaic browser, developed at NCSA and the technology that powers Internet Explorer, that helped in reducing space and time to zero.
- the power of the American film: Sound was first recorded on film at Illinois.
“Students often ask me what the big deal is about entrepreneurship,” said Magelli, “I give them a few examples to think about.”
Magelli asks students to consider some data: with the population of the world growing at over 75 million per year, 82 trillion new meals will be needed next year and the per capita debt of the United States will grow to $3 million in ten years. “Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?” Having caught the attention of his audience with those figures, he said that entrepreneurship holds the possibility of providing solutions to these and associated challenges.
Laura Hollis, associate director at the Academy, noted that the new Lunchbox series is a “chance for faculty fellows and other people affiliated with the Academy to present what they’re working on and show how entrepreneurship relates to people all over campus.”
The talk was well attended, far exceeding the expectations of the organizers, who ended up standing throughout the talk, having given up their seats for other attendees. “If you work for us, you stand!” said Hollis.