Cultivating the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Innovation is spurred not simply by necessity, but by an individual’s adventurous and optimistic mindset – a mindset that undergirds notions of the American Dream, and animates those of the California Dream. Indeed, it is the sense that anything is possible which led visionaries to create Hollywood, the aerospace industry, Silicon Valley, and, most recently, Silicon Beach. Nurturing that mindset within American research universities made the United States the most innovative country in the world. For USC to lead, it must harness that same sense of innovation to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit.

Such efforts are not new to USC. In fact, being fearless in the face of possible failure was present in our founder, Judge Robert Maclay Widney, as he sought to create a major university in a small pueblo town almost 140 years ago, and it has been present ever since. We count among our faculty risk-taking Nobel Prize winners, MacArthur “Genius” Award winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Academy members, and National Medal recipients. We continue our innovation in the arts with the recent creation of the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and the game-changing Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation. We have created unique testbeds for innovation, like the Institute for Creative Technologies, and have supported commercialization efforts through USC Stevens Center for Innovation, the Alfred Mann Institute, and a recent National Science Foundation-funded Innovation Hub program. In an area in which USC has been a pioneer, we extended the promise of education to aspiring and practicing professionals, offering over 90 online graduate degree programs to spur innovation and serve social needs. And more recently, we created programs that harness the entrepreneurial spirit of our students, including courses of study in social entrepreneurship, the Health, Technology and Engineering certificate program, and exploring innovation across the arts, technology, and business through forward-looking academic programs and incubator opportunities.

To tackle the problems of the 21st century, universities must do more than simply recruit innovative people and help commercialize their ideas. To lead in this area is to fashion and support a culture of creativity, engagement, impact, and entrepreneurship (CEIE) across our campuses. In the coming years, we will put into place policies and reward systems that encourage CEIE by our scholars, researchers, and creative artists. We will invest in institutes and centers where success will be evaluated not just on standard academic measures, but on their success in translating ideas into impact, and in fostering CEIE in trainees. We will work with individual philanthropists, corporations, and foundations to create venture funds that will fuel the growth of new ideas. We will streamline our commercialization procedures so that they are as nimble and fearless as our entrepreneurs. We will be purposeful about making CEIE a formal part of our students’ education, both in the curriculum and through co-curricular activities. We will remind ourselves that informed risk-taking is a Trojan core value.