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Project Title:Encouraging Entrepreneurship at Northern Illinois UniversityInstitution Name:Northern Illinois University Innovation Category:Economic and Workforce Development Project Director:Lisa C. Freeman, Vice President for Research & Graduate StudiesContact Information:(815) 753-1883, lfreeman1@niu.eduWebsite:http://www.niu.edu/index.shtml
Project Description:NIU seeks to encourage innovation among faculty and students in programs across campus, and is employing a multi-faceted approach to make the knowledge, experiences, skills and attitudes associated with entrepreneurship more accessible to individuals outside of the College of Business. To this end, existing faculty and staff associated with entrepreneurship programs in the Colleges of Business and Engineering/Engineering Technology are reaching out to students, faculty and staff from other academic disciplines within the university. University resources are being invested in new initiatives focused on expanding the opportunities for entrepreneurship training and industry collaboration available to members of all academic disciplines. In addition, NIU is actively supporting pre-college entrepreneurship education programs in Illinois.

The NIU College of Business sponsors a social venture business plan competition where participating teams include students from not only Business, but also Engineering/Engineering Technology, and Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The Office of the Vice President for Research and the NIU Foundation are sponsoring Venture Grants focused on early stage development of faculty R&D. Interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students will develop a business plan and a fast pitch based on faculty inventions to compete for proof-of-concept funding.

NIU is a partner in two entrepreneurship education initiatives targeted to pre-college students: Econ Illinois and the Illinois R&D STEM Learning Exchange.


Six interdisciplinary student teams competed in the first NIU social venture plan business competition, with the winner, “Light Up Africa,” receiving $10,000 in seed money and going on to the Dell Social Innovation Challenge. Goals are to increase program participation and to enhance success of all participants in moving ideas to market

The initial Venture Grants competition will take place in spring of 2013. Intended outcomes include:

  • Extended collaboration among broad cross-section of NIU students and faculty
  • Translation of NIU’s best ideas into viable products and services
  • Advancement of NIU’s innovation ecosystem.

Increased university-industry collaboration is a desired outcome for each objective

Challenges/Problems Encountered:Communicating effectively across disciplinary boundaries is a challenge, due tothe physical and cultural separation of academic communities at NIU. A combination of mass communication, social media, targeted group and individual outreach is being employed to inform and engage the NIU community about new and ongoing activities. To address the issues that arise because entrepreneurship is relatively new to higher education and still emerging as a legitimate academic field of study, the campus dialogue is emphasizing the relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is prominent in the overall strategy because social justice and student engagement are NIU core values.
Evaluation Approach:Participant feedback is used for continuous program improvement. Faculty innovation is measured in part by tracking invention disclosures, patents, licenses/deals, start-ups. Industry collaboration is assessed by tracking the number/dollar value of contracts, consortial and affiliation agreements with an industry partner, as well as industry sponsored R&D. Student entrepreneurship will be measured by tracking student participation in academic programs, extra-curricular activities and competitions where students have the opportunity to think, plan and act as entrepreneurs.
Potential for Replication:The overall success of any multi-faceted strategy to increase student and faculty innovation and entrepreneurship will depend on campus buy-in to component programs. The strategy should include efforts to expand and broaden participation in programs with a proven track-record, as well as incentives to engage faculty and students in new initiatives. Complementary initiatives focused on pre-college students may be used to enhance on-campus efforts, and will facilitate the recruitment of students who possess an entrepreneurial mindset.
Additional Resources:

College of Business Social Venture Business Plan Competition

ECON Illinois

Illinois R&D STEM Learning Exchange

CEO-to-CEO Contact:John G. Peters , Presidentjpeters@niu.edu
(815) 753-9500
Date Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012