University Innovation

One of the slowest adopters of innovation is the educational market. Specifically, one of the only things that has really changed in education in Universities and Colleges over the years, besides the sluggish adoption of technology, is the tuition prices. The prices keep going up, consumers keep paying and putting themselves in debt and they complete school without having barely any practical skills to enter the job force. The student loan debt issue in society is crippling, but that is another issue altogether. The educational model is drastically broken. Currently, students pay large sums of money to learn theoretical skills to receive a degree, only to have to unlearn most of this and learn how to actually work in the real world. Also, since students are in debt, they often end up having to take the first job they can get, even if they aren't passionate about that particular career because they have to start repaying their loan for an education that didn't provide the value it could have. 

Why aren't Universities innovating with the times? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but I've highlighted some of them below:

Massive Organizations: The larger the organization, the harder it becomes for innovation to occur because of the levels of command and red tape that needs to be cut through to make things happen.

Siloed Departments/BudgetsUniversities often have budgets that are split between divisions of the school and also management that is split. This means that departments are often not working well together and aren't staying interconnected for a common goal. Also, when it comes to creating innovative projects that would bridge the gap to connect various departments, the segmented divisions don't want to give up part of their budget to make it happen.

Politics: Politics within Universities stifles innovation. There are often a lot of people that Universities have to please on their staff in order to get ideas to come to fruition. If one division doesn't like an idea and it could cause internal political problems, perhaps because they feel as if the idea is usurping the power of their department, then the idea is dead in the water. 

Slow: One thing that Universities are not known for is stealthy actions. 4 weeks in the business world is about 48 hours in University time. This makes it near impossible to accomplish anything innovative because decisions take forever to be made.

I believe Universities are now at a tipping point where they are realizing that something needs to change and they have to start innovating in order to attract high-quality students. In my opinion, the schools that act the fastest to implement innovation-based curriculum will be the first to begin attracting the highest quality students. I have laid out some suggestions on what Universities should be doing:

Entrepreneurial Classes: Universities need to incentivize students to problem solve and create businesses. They need to structure classes that provide students with hands-on practical experience. For example, if you want to teach a student how to do sales, explain how to build a sales funnel, prospect clients, develop sales metrics and then make the students start selling a product. The best way to learn is by doing and this has been proven over and over again. Partner students with companies in town and let them help sell their product. The student will develop real-world skills. What do you think an employer is going to do when they see two candidates fresh out of school: 1) one with a business degree and straight A's; and 2) one with a business degree and proven conversion rates and actual metrics on the successful sales they have made. The employer is going to choose candidate two every time. This concept can be applied to any area the student is studying.

Interconnect Schools w/in the University: Develop programs that allow students from the engineering school to work with students in the business school and students in the design school, etc. A business has many moving parts and a need for a variety of expertise. Provide opportunities for students to learn this while in school so they are more effective in the job force.

Faculty/Student Business Engagement: Create programs where students can develop businesses with the faculty. Maybe a faculty member has developed a great idea for a tech product but doesn't know how to develop it. So, they connect with a student pursuing a computer science degree to work together to build it. These are the types of interactions that need to occur to infuse innovation. 

Tech Transfer: This is one of the biggest issues that schools have not figured out. Schools need to quit being so greedy in tech transfer and allow the founders of ideas to actually commercialize them, provide them with enough ownership to incentivize them to create a real business and generate revenue that pumps back into the University, but in a way that the founders can still scale the business and reap the rewards of their hard work.

Create Stealth: Universities should restructure their decision-making process to put more power at the various levels of management so things can happen faster. If you need six levels of approval to get a project off the ground, good luck staying cutting edge and innovative within the University. 

These are a few ideas of what schools should be focused on as they move into the future. We are reaching a point where students will demand all experiential learning and if you aren't innovating, then your enrollment rates will begin to drop. One way that schools can learn how to build these programs is by reaching out to Capital Innovators for help. We have programs that we can put in place to accomplish the goals that Universities need as they move into the future. With all of the businesses that we have helped build over the years, we know what it takes to infuse true innovation into organizations. We'd love the opportuntity to help take your school to the next level and create programs that will attract top-notch students, help create and foster an educational environment of entrepreneurship and help your Universitiy remain relevant and cutting-edge into the future.

Brian Dixon