TITLE: Universities, Cities, and Start-Ups AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: April 22, 2016 12:03 PM DESC: ----- BODY: If I were the city of Des Moines, I'd be thinking about Paul Graham's advice on how to make Pittsburgh a startup hub. Des Moines doesn't have a Carnegie Mellon, but it is reasonably close to two major research universities and has a livable downtown. While Des Moines is not likely to become a major startup hub, it could create the sort of culture needed to sustain a healthy ecosystem for new companies. Such an ecosystem would strengthen its already solid, if unspectacular, IT industry. Regarding the universities' role in this process, Graham says:
Being that kind of talent magnet is the most important contribution universities can make toward making their city a startup hub. In fact it is practically the only contribution they can make.
But wait, shouldn't universities be setting up programs with words like "innovation" and "entrepreneurship" in their names? No, they should not. These kind of things almost always turn out to be disappointments. They're pursuing the wrong targets. The way to get innovation is not to aim for innovation but to aim for something more specific, like better batteries or better 3D printing. And the way to learn about entrepreneurship is to do it, which you can't in school.
Our university has an entrepreneurship program. I like a lot of what they do for students, but I worry about it becoming about entrepreneurship more than students starting companies. Academics are great at creating programs to talk about stuff, and a lot of what I see our students do is reading about entrepreneurship and studying what other entrepreneurs have done and are done. I'm reminded of an online Q-n-A with Elon Musk's ex-wife. She said that one thing Elon was not doing was sitting around thinking about what other entrepreneurs were doing. As in so many things, I am also reminded of an aphorism from Kent Beck: "Do stuff, or talk about stuff, but don't talk about doing stuff." An entrepreneur does things. The best thing a university can do is to help students learn what they need to solve hard problems and then get out of their way. -----