If you need help and feel that a university environment might be right for you, your first task is to find the institution that best fits your needs. Experts like Rice and Marvin suggest that not every educational institution is capable of delivering the assistance you need. In particular, they say you should focus your energy on working with a university that has an entrepreneurship program. The different mindsets at schools teaching entrepreneurship are subtle but important. At most universities, for instance, professors prepare students to join a company as an employee after graduation. At schools with entrepreneurship programs, you'll find professors and students preparing to build businesses.
Even schools with fledgling entrepreneurship programs are worth checking out. For instance, Bob Tosterud, chair of the Council of Entrepreneurship Chairs, a group of business schools with endowed entrepreneurship chairs, says entrepreneurship is a hot topic in universities these days. "People who are hired by schools to cultivate entrepreneurship chairs are often highly qualified and have lots of contacts in business and academia," says Tosterud. "I recommend calling any university nearby, and if they have even a rudimentary entrepreneurship program, schedule an appointment to talk to the person running it."
Marvin also advises that if you want to approach a university for funding, keep in mind that they offer many ports of entry. "Go in as many doors as possible," he says, "but don't stay anywhere too long if it doesn't look productive."
For instance, a school like RPI that has a hyperactive entrepreneurship program might have affiliate programs in which companies off campus can get involved; they may also have SBA-sponsored Small Business Development Centers, alumni outreach programs, campus networking events, business incubators, manufacturing assistance centers or entrepreneurial resource centers that can be beneficial. In addition, try approaching professors, deans, executive directors and even students. With ILINC and MapInfo, for instance, Marvin says the companies got their strongest support and best contacts from alumni.
When going the university route, keep the many people you meet along the way apprised of your progress. Remember, schools are political. They need to be able to share credit for your success, which strengthens the entrepreneurial fabric for those who will follow you.