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UW to Foster Economic Growth, Diversification with New Institute

March 22, 2018

The University of Wyoming will step up its efforts to enhance and diversify the state’s economy, with the creation of a new Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE).

The UW Board of Trustees voted today (Thursday) to authorize establishment of the institute, which will foster entrepreneurship among UW students, faculty and staff, and across the state, in a university-wide effort.

“The IIE will draw upon key strengths of the university and develop additional capacity for UW to serve as a powerful and systematic economic engine for the state,” says Vice President for Research and Economic Development Ed Synakowski. “The institute will support inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs along the entire pathway from idea to successful commercialization.”

Plans for the institute -- which is part of “Breaking Through: 2017-2022,” the university’s new strategic plan -- were developed by College of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Michael Pishko and College of Business Interim Dean David Chicoine. It connects with Gov. Matt Mead’s ENDOW initiative, which aims to diversify Wyoming’s economy.

UW President Laurie Nichols has committed startup funding from her strategic initiative fund to support the launch of the IIE this year. That involves the creation of faculty and professor of practice positions in entrepreneurship, as well as an entrepreneur in residence, for which recruitment is underway. A budget will be proposed for the 2018-19 fiscal year, and a location for the institute will be established on campus this summer.

The strategic plan calls for enhanced entrepreneurship programming across campus; more public-private partnerships; excellence in research; best-of-class technology transfer and commercialization; more royalty-generating licenses for existing and startup companies; new technologies and innovations derived from faculty research; and more university-based startup companies.

While UW’s Office of Research and Economic Development is strengthening its technology-transfer capabilities, the IIE creates an organization, with governance and leadership, to focus the university’s efforts on entrepreneurship. Its governing board is composed of academic deans and the vice president for research and economic development, illustrating the university-wide approach.

The IIE will facilitate infusion of entrepreneurship principles in academic courses across campus; support the strengthening of the entrepreneurship major; create an entrepreneurship minor available to all majors; provide informal training activities on and off campus; and support a possible new master’s degree in technology management through the College of Business and the College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“Most important will be embedding and integrating, in a systematic, faculty-led manner, principles of entrepreneurship in courses offered by departments across the university, similar to the way writing is infused throughout the curriculum,” Chicoine and Pishko say.

Faculty members from across campus will be recruited to become faculty of the IIE, in a manner similar to UW’s Honors College. They will integrate innovation and entrepreneurship into their faculty responsibilities within their disciplines and department responsibilities.

Among other things, the IIE will include a “Business Creation Factory,” led by a professor of practice. It will assess innovations and their business potential, moving projects admitted to the factory through a three-stage process of new venture creation.

“In this phased process, the concept is de-risked and increases the likelihood of creating startup companies that can attract private, early-stage capital and are high-quality, real investment opportunities that show strong promise of growing into successful enterprises,” Chicoine and Pishko say.

Candidates for the Business Creation Factory could come from faculty inventions; from student and faculty business plan competitions; from new centers of innovation on campus; as well as from entrepreneurs across Wyoming.

“Once operational, the Business Creation Factory will be a living laboratory supporting research on the process of business creation and the efficient, effective commercialization of innovations as an economic development and diversification strategy,” Synakowski says. “Overall, the IIE will enable the university to fulfill its unique mission to create a more prosperous future for Wyoming, its people, its communities, and its business and industry.”

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