Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Cornell Engineering has a long history of engineering excellence; however, there is greater potential to translate our engineering innovations into the commercial sector. In 2021, we hired our first Associate Dean for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E) with a mandate to organize, grow, and build an entrepreneurial culture and ecosystem within five years. The overarching vision for this new office is simple: to be the first college of engineering named when anyone asks, “Who does entrepreneurship right?”

To achieve this vision, we must create unique ways to activate and develop our college’s entrepreneurial spirit. We will do this through engagement with industry, through the entrepreneurial development of our college’s research talent, by maximizing the funding opportunities for new companies created by our community, and through entrepreneurial courses, workshops, and experiential learning opportunities for our students. Our plan is to identify, develop and continuously improve the best practices that optimally bolster our faculty and students’ entrepreneurial goals.

Industrial relationship optimization

Technology development is best guided when experienced industry partners share their development needs and product portfolio development efforts. The I&E team’s strategic plan to optimize Cornell Engineering’s interactions with industry includes the creation of research-specific faculty clusters that serve as a cohesive industry-facing research framework. These clusters also serve as an organizational tool to facilitate the development of new research centers, specifically those funded by industry partners. Other efforts include organizing mechanisms through which industry can conduct measurements on campus. The result of these and other efforts is increased faculty-level interactions with industry representatives, which will lead to greater research discussion and will result in increased research funding from industry.

Development of startup-ready talent

As our faculty and students become more entrepreneurial, Cornell Engineering is responding by building additional programs and infrastructure to best support and guide their efforts. For example, the I&E team is meeting with each faculty member, one-on-one, to build a database of our faculty research areas, how their research interfaces with industry, and how their research could be commercialized. Additionally, we are building an internal team to screen submitted research proposals and develop initial white papers for the faculty about how their proposal could nucleate the start of a new company. To support faculty who want to experience entrepreneurship first-hand, we are developing a faculty entrepreneurship sabbatical program to bring faculty onto the I&E team for a one-year immersion opportunity.

Entrepreneurship education

Cornell is positioned to be a leader in entrepreneurship education. By threading entrepreneurial principles into courses such as senior design projects, students will be able to connect hands-on engineering practice to entrepreneurial thinking. Through programs like the Kessler Fellows, Ph.D. Commercialization Fellows, and the eLab student business accelerator, students will have opportunities for extracurricular, internship, co-curricular, and for-credit experiential learning. Cornell Engineering also partners with the Women Entrepreneurs Cornell (WE Cornell) and Black Entrepreneurs in Training (BET) which recruit our women and underrepresented minority students through a stair-step approach to participate in entrepreneurship programming. Last, we envision expanding the college’s successful project teams model to connect students to challenges of local and regional startups, providing vehicles for community-engaged learning for students who want exposure to a startup but prior to being ready to start one of their own.

Entrepreneurship funding

While some engineering innovations have commercial potential, attracting early-stage funding can be challenging. Two efforts are underway to increase early-stage funding rates. First, the I&E team is organizing an internal Red Team to review and critique grant proposals. Second, the team is developing a data-driven approach to help guide our faculty’s new companies toward the most suitable venture capital firms, thereby enhancing their potential for successful funding. The anticipated outcome of the I&E team’s work is to build a sustainable organization that best serves the entrepreneurial efforts of our faculty and students. Cornell Engineering is daring to explore new ways to interact with industry, build our entrepreneur talent pool, and finance new companies based on our technology through a data-driven approach toward growing our technology translation successes.

Duffield Hall in the snow with

Photo by Jason Koski, Cornell University.