San Diego Schools Priming The Next Generation Of Entrepreneurs
Uzair Mohammad already had a handle on the technology he wanted to create when he enrolled last year at the University of California San Diego, but the sophomore is now just as excited about the business opportunities it presents.
“It’s definitely very interesting,” the bioengineering major said of what he’s learned about entrepreneurship. “Up until now I’ve only done the science stuff. This is valuable stuff I’m learning now.”
Mohammad’s idea to grow biofiltration technology for drinking water purification won first prize in January at UC San Diego’s competition for commercially promising environmental technologies. The prize money was only $6,500, but the win and the exposure he’s gotten to tech commercialization have Mohammad thinking about what’s next.
“We hope to build a company and have the company sell the filters,” he said.
That’s the kind of ambition educator Rosibel Ochoa is hearing more and more often.
“Our courses are oversubscribed,” said the executive director of UC San Diego’s von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center. “We usually have slots open only for 25 students; we get 50, 60 students that sign up. We had to create additional sections because there’s so much interest, especially in the last few years, from the student population, from the engineers, from the basic science students, all in learning about entrepreneurship.”
San Diego State University
That enthusiasm is matched at San Diego State University, where the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center recently brought in Jeff Church, serial entrepreneur and CEO of San Diego-based Suja Juice and Nika Water to speak to students.
In addition to recounting his successes and failures, including bankruptcy, Church advised students to put off earning MBAs until they got some real-world experience in business. Small and medium-sized firms are the best places to acquire the multidisciplinary chops necessary for entrepreneurs, he said.
He left them with an inspirational quote from politician William Jennings Bryan: “Destiny is not a matter of chance, but a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” (By the way, Bryan thought his destiny was to be president. He ran three times – and lost.)
“(SDSU) does a real good job of arranging networking and meet-and-greets,” said Kyle Good, a student from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Fellow student Monica Jimenez from Tijuana is a member of a school club for aspiring entrepreneurs. “The Entrepreneur Society assigns books on negotiation, lean startups and stuff like that. It’s great because they aren’t theory and they aren’t out of date,” she said.
Higher education in San Diego is placing more emphasis on entrepreneurship because of the changing marketplace, said Alex DeNoble, executive director of the Entrepreneurial Management Center at San Diego State, which is adding an entrepreneurial minor in the fall.
“People are realizing the importance of picking up entrepreneurial skills and developing an entrepreneurial mindset because the old notion of job security with a big company, that’s nonexistent at his point,” he said. “I don’t envision all of our students going out and starting their own companies, but they are learning to be value-added players in this startup environment because that’s where the opportunities lie.”
UC San Diego
Farther north in La Jolla, UC San Diego’s entrepreneurship programs spread over two schools, the Jacobs School of Engineering (von Liebig Center) and the Rady School of Management, and include a seed fund, which has contributed to the creation of 37 startups.
UC San Diego was ranked ninth among public schools and 20th overall among top American research universities in 2011. The university’s faculty and alumni have spun off at least 200 local companies with an emphasis on biotech. Though it’s only nine years old, the Rady School this year ranked seventh in entrepreneurship by alumni surveyed by the Financial Times.
At a recent class, guest lecturer and alumnus Ashley Van Zeeland, CEO of life sciences startup firm Cypher Genomics, praised the university’s tech transfer program as the best in the state. She also advised budding entrepreneurs to learn the difference between a sales pitch and a fundraising pitch.
Student Victor Wu said the Moxie Center, an incubator for undergraduates, regularly holds mixers where entrepreneurially minded students from different disciplines can mingle and, possibly, form a startup.
“There are a lot of resources on campus for students and young entrepreneurs,” he said.
A third school, the University of San Diego, will organize its various entrepreneurship programs under a center within a few years, said Michael Lawless, a professor in the School of Business Administration.