In fall 2013, Holden Thorp became provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Washington University, where he also holds an endowed chair in chemistry and medicine. Thorp joined Washington University after spending three decades at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He served as the chancellor of UNC from 2008 through 2013. Thorp earned a doctorate in chemistry in 1989 at the California Institute of Technology and completed postdoctoral work at Yale University. In his research career, he developed technology for electronic DNA chips and most recently cofounded Viamet Pharmaceuticals, which is commercializing new drugs for anti-fungal and prostate cancer indications.
When entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking are injected into the mix, remarkable things happen at our great universities.
High-impact innovation requires an entrepreneurial mindset that views big problems as big opportunities. The entrepreneur is ready to embark on a journey without knowing the exact destination and is ready to fail in reaching for success. When entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking are injected into the mix, remarkable things happen at our great universities. Many universities were founded as a result of a partnership between an academic, often a humanist, and an entrepreneur. Throughout the book, we point to great achievements growing out of an entrepreneurial mindset or from deep involvement of entrepreneurs in the university community; but these achievements are still too rare, and academics still too often equate entrepreneurship with opportunism or commercialization in a pejorative way.
So let us be clear. We see entrepreneurship as fully consonant with the aims of the modern university, in all its many and varied parts. “Entrepreneurs innovate.” These two words by Peter Drucker summarize both his thinking on the meaning of entrepreneurship and literally hundreds of books on the subject. The elegance of the definition makes it easy to miss its profound implications. Notice there is no mention of business. Entrepreneurs are not necessarily business people. Nor do the words “management” or “commercialization” or “finance” or even “money” appear in the definition. Instead, Drucker’s definition provides a metaphorical big tent – an intellectual framework – with room for social, scientific, artistic, and, yes, even academic entrepreneurs. This “big tent” actually hosts a conversation, a way of thinking about opportunity, using a set of tools that are available to all no matter what their agenda or their values. Once these ground rules are established, we believe it is appropriate and even imperative that entrepreneurship enter the dialog that takes place at America’s great research universities. The result will be the kind of innovation that will reenergize all of our great institutions in the twenty-first century, as it has in the past.
From Engines of Innovation: The Entrepreneurial University in the Twenty-First Century. Copyright © 2013 by Holden Thorp and Buck Goldstein. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press. Buck Goldstein is the University Entrepreneur in Residence and a professor of the practice in economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.