Entrepreneurship: In the Service of Innovation

December 18th, 2015 / Advancement

Students at work in a space dedicated to entrepreneurial endeavors at 34 Chambers Street.

Tackling real-world problems often requires venturing into uncharted territory in search of solutions.

A growing number of Princeton faculty, students, and alumni are forging new paths, from developing software that facilitates the design and management of pharmaceutical trials to increasing access to solar power. Their successes demonstrate that embracing an entrepreneurial mindset can be the catalyst for turning fundamental research and creative ideas into products and services with social and economic impact.

Harnessing Momentum

Princeton began kindling this entrepreneurial mindset with a course on "High-Tech Entrepreneurship," taught by Ed Zschau ’61, who has been instrumental in launching multiple companies. It sparked tremendous interest in the topic, and was the harbinger of a surge of entrepreneurship-related courses, competitions, and internships. 

Friendsy co-founder Vaidhy Murti ’15 explains how the college based-social network has grown since its genesis in the 2014 eLab accelerator.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Keller Center offers a range of opportunities—including the eLab Summer Accelerator Program, a launchpad for student start-ups—that encourage students to take risks and refine their ideas for new products and services. Faculty and graduate students compete in the Innovation Forum, in which University researchers present potentially marketable discoveries.

An Entrepreneural Ecosystem

Entrepreneurship is rapidly becoming an integral part of Princeton's culture, and support for this important initative must grow to meet demand. Courses are oversubscribed. Some programs have had to turn away more than 50 percent of worthy student or faculty applicants. At the same time, our peer institutions have been investing heavily in such initiatives. In response to burgeoning interest, the University has developed a roadmap for supporting entrepreneurship that will be implemented with the guidance of the newly formed Princeton Entrepreneurship Council:

  • Increasing opportunities for students, such as internships at start-ups, the expansion of eLab, and other new programs
  • Establishing an Entrepreneurial Hub at 34 Chambers Street in Princeton
  • Launching new initiatives, including the Alumni Entrepreneurs Fund, which provides financial support to young alumni start-ups, and the Tiger Challenge, in which interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates search for solutions to some of society’s most intractable problems
  • Establishing an undergraduate certificate program
  • Building an entrepreneurial alumni network for students and faculty.

Amina Yamusah ’13 and Achille Tenkiang ’17 present BLOC, an online network connecting black collegians with potential employers, at the 2015 eLab Demo Day.

The University’s commitment to entrepreneurship is rooted in its strength as a liberal arts institution. Here, entrepreneurship is more than an occupation— it is a mindset. Entrepreneurial activities include founding start-ups, creating nonprofits, joining early-stage companies, and introducing innovative programs within large corporations, governments, and nongovernmental organizations. The University’s distinctive approach cuts across all disciplines and encompasses social initiatives as well as commercial endeavors, and amplifies Princeton’s teaching, research, and service missions.

For information on supporting entrepreneurship at Princeton, contact Kerstin Larsen ’83 *17, assistant vice president for development/fundraising initiatives, at klarsen@princeton.edu or 609.258.8972.