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No Ivory Tower

University venture lab provides real-life entrepreneurial lessons
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In a place where people immerse themselves in knowledge, it's only natural that new ideas will emerge. That's the thinking behind the Venture Creation Lab in the Center for Technology Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Designed to give students from all disciplines the chance to research business opportunities and emerging technologies, the lab is a type of testing ground for business ideas, notes Robert Jacobs, managing director of the center. Once accepted into the center, students from the engineering, medicine and law programs are put in teams of three or four to decide what is most commercially feasible using the technologies developed and owned by the university. "At that point," says Jacobs, "they start to work on a full-scale business plan."

According to Jacobs, it's exciting to witness this amalgamation of different points of view. "From the law school students' perspective, there is the recognition that too much law can interfere with the requirements of business," he says. "The [others] recognize, in turn, the importance of putting together a legal deal from the beginning." So far, the 18-month-old program hasn't involved any students from the humanities, but that is something they hope to change in the future, says Jacobs.

The key to this creative environment is to welcome everyone's ideas and to seek help from outside advisors. In the university environment, that means professors, but in the larger business community, advisors can be found in chambers of commerce and networking groups.

Question is, has the Venture Creation Lab launched any actual businesses? Yes, says Jacobs: "Two are at the funding stage right now." One team, which formed Cogelix Targeted Radiotherapy with technology from a university partner, Battelle Memorial Institute, will develop a less invasive radiation therapy for cancer patients. The business was formed by two MBA students, a law student and an engineering student.

This communal sharing of ideas works best when the students come together with open minds. And so far, that's just what they're doing. "[Here], they're still in an academic environment; they don't come in with preconceived ideas," says Jacobs. "So while you may have some communication problems at the very beginning, you don't have any real roadblocks."

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