Entrepreneurship Labs Flourish on College Campuses

NYU opens ELab to offer hands-on experience and capital access


More and more students have the opportunity to explore entrepreneurship on campus through co-working spaces or labs. Just recently an entrepreneurship lab opened up on the campus of New York University. The 5,900-sq.-ft. facility will also serve as the headquarters of NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute.

The Leslie ELab, as it is known, is dedicated to giving aspiring business owners directly affiliated with the university’s 20-plus colleges and schools hands-on experience and access to financial capital in sectors ranging from software to fashion. The lab includes co-working spaces, meeting rooms, an event space, and a fabrication lab to encourage interaction, prototyping, and collaboration. The workspace is staffed by a lab manager and startup concierge to help guide budding entrepreneurs.

NYU is not alone in recognizing the need to nurture campus entrepreneurship. Columbia University opened the Lab, a co-working space for alumni entrepreneurs, in July. Stanford and Berkeley were instrumental in many Silicon Valley startups.

In the process of creating entrepreneurship programs, universities have become more entrepreneurial themselves. Colleges and universities are natural incubators of creativity and new ways of looking at things, according to Jonathan Ortmans, president, Global Entrepreneurship Week. This new reality means that colleges and universities are better preparing students for success in the American economy — where more professionals need to make their own jobs, he states.

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In fact, last year, the Commerce Department released a new report, The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University, that underscored the increasingly diverse ways in which colleges and universities across America are promoting cultures of entrepreneurship on campus and encouraging students to start companies. The report showed that as hubs of learning, networking, mentorship, and creativity, colleges and universities provide particularly fertile ground for the cultivation of world-changing, entrepreneurial ideas.

The report is based on more than 130 interviews with university leaders, building on the work of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It highlights more than 50 initiatives that have sprouted up on campuses across the country, including those that promote entrepreneurship among students and faculty; accelerate the transition of research innovations from the lab to the marketplace; and encourage engagement between universities, industry partners, and regional economies.

In addition, a team of undergraduates from 45 institutions of higher education helped launch University Innovation, an online platform through which students can rapidly and effectively share information about on-campus entrepreneurship programs — including what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed. This public, wiki-editable platform is a special project of Epicenter, a national hub for entrepreneurship and engineering education funded by the National Science Foundation.

At NYU, the new Leslie ELab will also be available to other campus programs such as the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival, startup accelerator NYU Summer LaunchPad, Startup Bootcamps for NYU Scientists and Engineers, and NYU Entrepreneurs Network, a collaboration of 22 student groups.

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