The Spirit of Entrepreneurship at WPI
Bringing Entrepreneurship to New Levels at WPI
Mac Banks, head of the Department of Management, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy, and CEI director
When it comes to incubating new businesses, the Collaborative for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) and its WPI Venture Forum act as a virtual hatchery at the university. Out of its workshops, networking events, competitions, and other resources, the CEI can lay claim to having helped dozens of start-up businesses in the last 15 years.
Mac Banks, head of the Department of Management, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy, and CEI director, sees the broad array of WPI entrepreneurial competitions and related programs as rich learning opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. “Validating the market for business ideas, writing a business plan, honing presentation and public speaking skills, learning about inventors notebooks and IP protection, and other critical business basics,” he says, “are key components for success in launching a technology start-up—whether for oneself or for one’s employer.”
The WPI suite of competitions includes the course-based Robert H. Grant Invention Awards, the Strage Innovation Awards, the Kalenian Award (for technology commercialization), the CEI@WPI ALL-OUT Business Plan Challenge, and the WPI Venture Forum Business Plan Competition.
The Strage Awards have inspired several student start-ups. William Tulli ’05, who won the Strage Award in 2005, founded Dockum Engineering with classmate Alexandra Levshin ’05. The two are pursuing an international patent for their motorcycle one-wire harness, which controls lights, switches, and other functions while eliminating the need for fuses, relays, flashers, load equalizers, and most wires.
Jeremy Hitchcock ’04 founded Dynamic Network Services Inc. (DynDNS.com) after he participated in several CEI competitions. Today, Hitchcock is CEO of the Internet domain name system services company; Thomas J. Daly ’04 is CTO.
While forming DynDNS, Daly and Hitchcock worked closely with Jerry Schaufeld, visiting professor of entrepreneurship at WPI, to develop their business plan, analyze the market, and value the company’s technology. “Jeremy and Tom started out as students in my entrepreneurship class,” Schaufeld says proudly. “It was a joy to work with them. We’d meet informally to discuss marketing plans and other fundamentals of their business plan. Mac [Banks] encourages all of us in the Department of Management to work with students in this way. It’s very rewarding.”
Banks also works to institutionalize entrepreneurship at WPI. He recently incorporated a new element into the MBA program’s Graduate Qualifying Project, through which students have conducted seven technology commercialization studies. Banks says he wants to use this “proof of concept effort” to demonstrate the tremendous value that WPI’s MBA students can add to faculty research. The project also assists the technology transfer office by identifying potential licensees and, in some cases, developing plans for emerging WPI-connected businesses.
Banks now hopes to launch a new MS degree program called Technology Commercialization and Entrepreneurship, which could attract students who want to start a business, become inventors who license their technology, or establish a career in technology transfer. He estimates that as the MS program gains momentum, as many as 40 studies could be conducted by students annually.
At the undergraduate level, Banks is working with James Hanlan, head of the Humanities and Arts Department, as well as other HUA and management faculty, to create an arts entrepreneurship program for students interested in continuing their engagement in the arts through business ventures.
“Entrepreneurship is a key to helping the U.S. retain and expand its advantage in the global marketplace, through innovation,” Banks says. “WPI’s small size works very much to our advantage, by allowing us to work readily across disciplines. It’s much easier to get to know—and therefore to access—people here than it is at larger universities.”
“Entrepreneurship coupled with science, engineering, and the arts is the perfect marriage,” says Gina Betti, associate director of the CEI. “Entrepreneurs want to commercialize ideas. Scientists, engineers, and artists want to improve society. Combine the two mindsets and you see potent results.”