Where Innovation Meets Business Savvy

In the early 1980s, Mark Rice was a graduate student and part of a “band of techies” that founded a solar energy company. “We spent 99.9 percent of our time developing our technology, and assumed that was enough to be successful,” he recalls. But like too many engineers with big ideas and no business sense, they eventually saw their research funding dry up and the company shut its doors.

Fast forward 30 years. Now, as the inaugural dean of WPI’s School of Business and an internationally recognized scholar of technological innovation and entrepreneurship, Rice is resolute: “Here we are today, and the world’s problems at the intersection of technology and business — including the need for alternative energy —are even more pressing. To turn research into innovation and innovation into impact, we need to prepare entrepreneurial leaders. WPI is one of the places that can do it.”

Leaders — and innovation — can come from any discipline, so preparation can and should extend beyond students aiming for business degrees. “Particularly for researchers whose intellectual property has commercial potential, awareness of strategy setting, financing, marketing, operations, selling — all the knowledge and skills we teach in business school — will enhance the potential for building a competent commercialization team,” Rice says.

WPI’s School of Business is an entrepreneurial venture in its own right. As with any new undertaking, there will be early adopters — for example, professors who influence engineering and science students to enroll in entrepreneurship classes. “The idea of combining technological sophistication with business savvy is very powerful,” he says. He looks forward to engaging venture capitalists and serial entrepreneurs as advisors for a new generation of technological entrepreneurs. “We should seize this opportunity to prepare WPI students to solve the world’s extremely complex and multidimensional problems.”

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