Purdue has more entrepreneurs

22 April 2017
22 Apr 2017
Purdue University
3 mins

Today, I wanted to share an idea echoed by many people I’ve talked to over the last week, from my friends at Purdue to experienced founders to investors. I think many of us think it, but rarely have I seen it written out for the student crowd. So… here goes.

Entrepreneurs are self-discovered, not made. You can’t give any random student a billion-dollar idea and put them in an ENTR program and expect a successful start-up to emerge, because in startups, people and dedication are greater than ideas. And while you can give anyone an idea, it’s much harder to take an uneager founder and turn them into successful hustlers.

Over the last half decade, Purdue has put a lot of effort into promoting entrepreneurship from the innovation that comes out of Purdue research every year. I see the fruits of that work every day at Purdue Research Park, where I work, and on campus, through the Foundry. But so far, much of the work we’ve put into entrepreneurship at Purdue is predicated on the notion that ideas are greater than people.

In press releases and media coverage, I see the stories focus on technological steps forward or specific pieces of research that’s come out of Purdue; I see fewer stories talk about the people behind them — especially the successful student entrepreneurs taking ideas that fill the needs in our everyday and bring them to the market, often without six-figure research grants or the university’s financial backing. I don’t mean to diminish the importance of academic research — entrepreneurship stalls without innovation. But we focus more on ideas, and less on founders, than we should.

I wish it were the other way around, because Purdue has more entrepreneurs.

By that, I mean that there are students on campus today that have the dedication and enthusiasm to make them great Boilermaker founders, but don’t see others like her doing it, succeeding, and being celebrated. We need more stories of Purdue about entrepreneurs, so more entrepreneurs here can see what their fellow students are up to, and feel empowered to take on the challenge themselves.

Entrepreneurs are self-discovered, not made. If we want to grow entrepreneurship at Purdue, we can’t just invest in classes and research programs; we need to recognize that half of the battle is inspiring the undiscovered entrepreneurs — that startups are much less about research breakthroughs and much more about filling in the gaps that the rest of us fail to see around us, and doing so with dedication and a willingness to make mistakes.

We often look at the Silicon Valley through rose-tinted glasses and gossip about their culture. The “Silicon Valley Culture” leads to this, we say, or the “Valley Culture” inspires that trend.

But culture isn’t funded by institutions or invested into by VC’s. Culture is nothing more than a community of people who believe that something is important, and are willing to work for it.

I would love to see a culture on Purdue campus that celebrates and encourages student founders. Academics and entrepreneurship are far from mutually exclusive — they push one another further. And when we put Purdue’s student entrepreneurs at the forefront and listen to their stories the same way we listen to Purdue’s celebrated researchers, it would be a tremendous help to Purdue’s many entrepreneurs discover themselves.

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