Academics and Research

DU to launch interdisciplinary center for entrepreneurship and innovation

X-MEN: From left, Brent Chrite of the Daniels College of Business, JB Holston of the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science and Martin Katz of the Sturm College of Law.

From left, Brent Chrite of the Daniels College of Business, JB Holston of the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science and Martin Katz of the Sturm College of Law. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

For a professor wanting to test a new entrepreneurship-related curriculum concept, for a student eager to launch her own business or nonprofit, or for a group of researchers eager to introduce a new invention to the marketplace, the University of Denver community will soon have a new interdisciplinary hub for projects at the intersection of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology.

Dubbed Project X-ITE, the initiative looks to position DU as a global leader in entrepreneurship-related higher education, and to increase the University’s visibility in Denver’s startup scene. The University-wide initiative will be kicked off in December by the Daniels College of Business, the Sturm College of Law and the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science; eventually it will grow to include expertise and contributions from across campus.

“Innovation, entrepreneurship and technology are driving growth in Denver, and DU can benefit from and contribute to that momentum through Project X-ITE,” says Chancellor Rebecca Chopp. “Project X-ITE will serve as a hub for transforming ideas into projects, products and businesses — as well as a headquarters for experiential learning focused on entrepreneurial work. We will welcome faculty, staff and students from all departments and disciplines who want to transform their ideas into projects, products and businesses, and we will seek to connect the University with industry of all sizes across the city and state, from startups looking for advice and direction to established businesses looking to take advantage of the resources and thought leadership available at the University.”

It’s an idea whose time has come, especially as the University sees an increase in the number of businesses looking to tap into DU’s expertise, says JB Holston, dean of the Ritchie School since July.

“The benefit for DU of doing this is that we’re much more powerful in the broader community as one brand than as a bunch of different brands,” he says. “If you talk to the folks leading the biggest companies in Colorado, they’ll tell you that it’s hard for them to have a separate conversation about entrepreneurship with Daniels and a separate conversation about innovation with the Ritchie School and a separate conversation about entrepreneurship and innovation with the law school. They’re really looking for DU as DU to say, ‘Look, we’d like to plug you into the things that we’re doing here that relate to what you’re doing in any of those areas, and you don’t have to worry about what’s going on on the back end.’

“That’s really distinct from how other universities typically do this,” Holston says. “Other universities do this in a really siloed, segmented way. We think we’ve got an opportunity to reverse that.”

The project is scheduled to launch Dec. 1 with two working groups: a three-member faculty group with one representative from each of the participating schools; and an industry group comprised of four DU trustees and up to 10 individuals from industry. The latter group will focus on long-term strategy for the project and on assisting those initiatives that have a substantial industry component. Project X-ITE is in the process of recruiting an executive director.

Project X-ITE will have two central functions during its alpha phase: coordinating and hosting a range of “Meetings of the Minds” on campus and elsewhere in Denver that will position the University as a central platform for the global conversation around innovation, technology and entrepreneurship; and using DU resources to kick-start, accelerate or expand a range of innovations in curriculum, research, industry relations and startup activity.

“The business school has people who are great at helping folks figure out the issues involved in incorporating a business; the law school has expertise around all the issues that go into the structural creation of a new business; and in engineering and computer science, there’s a lot of technical expertise,” Holston says. “The idea is to take that set of capabilities and collectively apply them to any really good innovative idea. It doesn’t have to be a new business — it may be a new curricular offering or a new research relationship with industry. As long as it’s at that intersection of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology, then this should be a place where we can figure out if it can get to some interesting scale.”

Via an online submission form, Holston says, the project will “cast a very broad net” for new initiatives; evaluate and choose those that are most promising; then support those chosen through conception to “first funding.” The project will give preference to initiatives that cross disciplines and that drive new connections between industry and DU faculty and students.

Brent Chrite, dean of the Daniels College, expects Project X-ITE will prove enticing to aspiring entrepreneurs, while offering students hands-on experience in the modern business landscape.

“We envision small entrepreneurs, minority-owned businesses, women-owned businesses, viewing DU as the go-to place for technical assistance and support and even ultimately access to capital,” he says. “And we envision our students, under the auspices of the project, to be able to engage at the grassroots level with things that are entrepreneurship-oriented. We want to have a robust curricular experience for students that is not necessarily defined by a classroom experience, but defined by a developmental experience and a connectivity to the marketplace. We’re talking full-service, integrated entrepreneurial energy, which we think is a hallmark of a 21st-century university.”

The new initiative is closely tied to the “Knowledge Design” section of the University’s draft strategic plan, DU IMPACT 2025, but its origins go back farther than that, says Martin Katz, dean of the law school.

“About a year ago, [the law school] put together an intellectual property task force to help us determine the best ways to take advantage of the exciting fact that Denver is now home to a new patent and trademark office,” Katz says. “Our task force members had several great ideas, but the ones that were most exciting to us were those that involved an interdisciplinary component. So I reached out to Brent Chrite, who had just taken over as dean at Daniels. He indicated that entrepreneurship and innovation were very much a part of the strategic vision at Daniels. When JB Holston arrived, it was clear that this was a big part of his strategic vision as well.”

The final piece, Katz says, emerged during the University’s strategic-planning process. “In that process, we saw clear mandates for more interdisciplinary work, both by students and faculty, and for more connection with the Denver business community, particularly in the innovation sector,” he says. “The fit between our project and that mandate seemed perfect. So Impact 2025 set the goal of getting this project up and running as soon as possible.”

When it is up and running, Holston says, Project X-ITE has the potential to make the University of Denver a major player in Colorado’s booming startup and tech scenes.

“For me, it’s about making DU synonymous with Denver,” Holston says. “If you think about what’s so exciting about Denver right now — millennials coming here, industry coming here, Google opening a 1,500-person office in Boulder — there’s this tremendous entrepreneurial energy. Everybody wants to come to Denver because they’re identifying it as a very entrepreneurial, innovative kind of place, and we want everyone to think of DU as equally entrepreneurial and innovative.”




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