Entrepreneurship & Innovation

There are activities related to entrepreneurship and innovation in nearly every corner of Northwestern, ranging from named centers and institutes to student groups and administrative offices. This spans a range of management structures, from organic student-driven initiatives to entities tightly managed by schools. In this respect, like in examples of complex systems, the entrepreneurship and innovation landscape at a university is more like a city than a company. In a company there is clear central authority and a clear focus; cities on the other hand, are decentralized, allowing creativity and the development of different neighborhoods that emerge to meet the needs of different populations. Self-organization breeds adaptability and resilience: All companies eventually die, but cities rarely do.

In McCormick, entrepreneurial activities, like all other components of our network, live within the context of whole-brain thinking. Two closely connected activities that stand out in our network are design innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

Like in a complex system, the landscape of entrepreneurial activities in a university cannot be managed centrally. However, much can be gained by connecting all components and making sure that all components are aware of the totality of the network to foster whole-network thinking. It is by enhancing connectivity and coordination across the University that we can leverage the success of our individual efforts to benefit Northwestern. 

Our Goals

Our primary mission is education and research. We want to educate people who will function and thrive in this world now and in the future; we want to produce results with impact, expanding the boundaries of knowledge and addressing the important problems of our world. In this time of rapid change, we are interested in enduring concepts and values, in nurturing a system where new ideas are valued, in constant progress, and in innovation at all levels. We see ourselves as the founder and driver for the coordination of educational efforts, such as the NUvention courses.

The creation of companies is a byproduct of what we do, not the central objective. However, where there is a desire to start a company that allows our innovators to move their own ideas into practice, we encourage it. With proper oversight, technology-based entrepreneurial activity can help us achieve our primary goals, and a lack of it may bring stagnation. Impact is more important than numbers. Therefore, we encourage best practices that lead to more successful startup companies, companies founded by inventors and skilled lab members instead of non-inventors who seek to commercialize the technology of others solely for financial gain. 

Our goal is not to provide terminal degree programs in entrepreneurship, but rather to foster an environment in which entrepreneurship and innovation are nurtured. We measure success through the quantity and quality of the programs we offer, the entrepreneurial success of our alumni, and the impact of our research.

Entrepreneurial Environment

We strive to attract the best faculty and students, and this often leads to a discussion of our entrepreneurial track record. A number of leading researchers are also prolific entrepreneurs who seek an institution that values these efforts and can offer an efficient and nurturing environment. Further, entrepreneurial efforts frequently encourage interactions and connections that create new insights and lead to more collaborative research.

The benefits of entrepreneurship are realized by building impactful and sustainable companies and successfully involving Northwestern Engineering students who are seeking an entrepreneurial experience. These two objectives go hand in hand. The most successful technology startup companies are based on ideas generated by the students themselves, or founded by technologists from the inventing lab. But entrepreneurship in McCormick goes well beyond technology, and extends to other components of our whole-brain network like Design for America, which is heavily invested in social entrepreneurship projects.

Of course the engagement of our students in entrepreneurial activities can present conflicts as well as opportunities, particularly if we allow our roles as students, teachers, mentors, and researchers to be dominated by the financial objectives of the startup rather than Northwestern Engineering's primary goals of education and research.

We strive to maximize the benefits of entrepreneurship within Northwestern Engineering by offering resources and mentorship to motivated researchers and students, and by guiding and informing early interactions with potential licensors.

At McCormick we view the development of entrepreneurial thinking skills as our central objective. Providing many pathways to entrepreneurship prepares students and faculty for impact in any environment, empowering them to push technology and innovation to society at large.