Universities Collaborate on Best Entrepreneurial Practices

9/8/2016 12:47:14 PM

The Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota held the 6th Annual Midwest Engineering Entrepreneurship Network (MEEN) Conference on July 20-21, 2016 at the University of Minnesota.

The Midwest Engineering Entrepreneurship Network (MEEN) began in 2011 when the TEC and the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan recognized the value in establishing a forum for sharing best practices for overcoming challenges that are unique to Midwest engineering entrepreneurship. Professor Andrew Singer, Director of the TEC said, “We realized that we shared many of the same challenges of engineering entrepreneurship in the Midwest, and that many of the resources available to universities and entrepreneurship centers are based on lessons learned from east- or west-coast ecosystems, which do not directly translate to the Midwest. We thought that it would be beneficial if we could collaborate with others sharing these challenges and learn from each other’s experiences, as well as create new opportunities for collaboration.”   

This year’s two-day conference was attended by 23 representatives from 14 Midwest universities including: Grand Valley State University, Iowa State University, Michigan Technological University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Akron, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Toledo, and Wichita State University.

As host this year, Kirk Froggott, Gemini Chair in Technology Management at the University of Minnesota, thinks of MEEN as a “community practice.” Froggott said, “It’s about creating an agenda and space for participants to create connections, have meaningful conversations, share best practices and learn with and from each other.”

Attendees began the conference with small group discussions to identify needs, as well as the most effective practices they find useful in their organization and university. Each small group then reported to the large group what their needs were before identifying three best practices to dive into for further discussion the next day.

Attendees see the importance of these interactive activities designed for idea sharing. Linda Chamberlain, the Director of Technology Commercialization at Grand Valley State University said, “With the strong focus on sharing of best practices and how we can build innovation capability for the Midwest, the MEEN conference provided insights and opportunities to create value for my institution and community.”

Other features of the conference included a tour of the Medical Devices Center and Visible Heart Lab, a discussion on Midwest regional I-Corps Collaboration Opportunities and tons of collaboration.

“We started a discussion about collaborating for a Midwest NSF I-Corps Node in 2014 at the MEEN Conference in Akron, Ohio,” said Jed Taylor, Director of Operations at TEC. “We just announced this new I-Corps Node as a collaboration between University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan, and Purdue University, and this would not have happened without first starting our discussion at MEEN and having it grow through our continued collaboration.”

By the end of the 2016 conference, the attendees grasped the overall purpose for MEEN and understood that this conference has significance.

“The conference is about harvesting and building on it with the goal of becoming strong, individually and collectively,” Froggatt says.

“The interactive format and the size of the group of participants made it easy to network and to get wealth of information both from an institutional perspective during the presentations and from an individual perspective during the interactive sessions,” Jim Baker, Co-Director of the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship at Michigan Technological University, says.

Next year’s conference will take place at the University of Iowa in July 2017. For more information visit go.illinois.edu/meen or contact Stephanie Larson at larson42@illinois.edu.