Innovation & Academia? – ASU Startup Weekend

There is a certain pleasure in pointing out how poor a job academic institutions do instilling the kind of innovative/entrepreneurial thinking required in their graduates. But here is the million dollar question:

Beyond pointing at the problem, what exactly are YOU going to do to fix it.

Photo courtesy of lumaxart:
Photo courtesy of lumaxart:

For many the answer is a resounding “not my problem” or “it can’t be fixed”.

You may be a student, member of faculty, a member of “industry”, or just a part of the larger community – regardless of your place in this there are a few things you need to know. Here they are.

First, it is on you. No one is going to do it for you, you can’t wait on someone else to make it happen. If you want more innovative and entrepreneurial thinking from the graduates of your school or your local university you must get involved.

No one gets an opt out. There is no pass that allows the business community to sit back and wait for the Academics to deliver the results. If you do, it will cost you money and time to develop these graduates into what you need.

Students don’t get to sit back and wait on their teachers/professors to make it a required part of the curriculum. The old song “it wasn’t on the syllabus” just won’t cut it.

Professors and teachers can’t wait for standardized tests and acceptable best practices to begin instilling innovation and entrepreneurship into their classrooms. You want your students to be more innovative – innovate!

This isn’t about checking the box. And it certainly isn’t about getting a diploma. That is – frankly – the easy part. Take the right classes, show up every day, take notes, do some occasional studying and you’ll get your diploma. You’ll have checked the box. It isn’t about graduation rates either – and here is why.

Second, it isn’t optional. Innovation and entrepreneurship are not optional. The world has changed. You are not going to graduate and get a job at Intel, work there 30 years and retire with a fat 401k, pension, and health benefits. Odds are you’ll change careers at least 5 times. More than likely you’ll be looking for a new job every 3 years or so. And by the time you are on your 3rd job (about 8 years or so out of college) no one (and I really mean NO ONE) is going to care that you have your diploma – you’ll have to have it, but it won’t make even the smallest difference in weather or not you get or keep the gig. Why? Because anyone can show up and check the box.

I’ve hired a lot of people over my 15 years in business (and technology), and I’ve never said to myself “I’m looking for someone who can check the box.” If what you are selling is showing up every day and checking the box, I’m not interested.

In the last 15 years I’ve seen a transformation – from employees who show up and do the basics being valued to those same employees being “managed out”. They aren’t wanted. We want the employees who are able to see outside the what is and look for what could be. We are looking for the innovators.

In this new world where you are either getting a gig, improving your gig, or getting the next gig you had better understand a thing or two about entrepreneurship. You are your own company – and it will be up to you to run You LLC effectively. Everything from deciding what the product is (what skills are you learning), to choosing the right partnerships (who are my mentors), to selling your product (getting a gig), to maximizing revenues (negotiating salaries) is your responsibility. You are an entrepreneur – like it or not.

This is the environment we are preparing graduates for. This is their reality.

Third, do something – TODAY.

You should be doing something about this every day. Weather you are in the business community, a member of faculty, or a student. You need to ask yourself every single day. How am I preparing myself and helping prepare others for this reality?

I suggest you start here. Go – right now – to the ASU Startup Weekend site. If you are an ASU Student register right now. If you are a member of the business community, volunteer to mentor the student startup teams by emailing Dr. Kevin Gary (kgary at If you are a member of ASU faculty get the flyer and hang it up in your classroom; offer you students extra credit for participating.

I’ll see you there, April 24th and 25th. Come find me and we’ll talk.