Pop-ups, Startups, and the Triple Bottom Line

Pop-ups, Startups, and the Triple Bottom Line

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Entrepreneurialism is in the air, on the streets, and quickly becoming a mainstay for diverse programs across college campuses. America’s higher education institutions are engaged in a variety of exciting programs to nurture innovation and entrepreneurship as part of the education of their students, faculty and alumni, and as a tool to leverage their assets to create economic value in their communities.

An amazingly detailed report was issued recently by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University: Higher Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Focus has some very specific examples of programs across the country that are creating innovation ecosystems critical for the long-term success and quality of entrepreneurial activity on campus and off. There is a focus on a triple bottom line (environmental, social, and economic or “planet, people, and profit”), which encourages cross-curricular, interdepartmental collaboration. Today’s challenges are more complex than they have been in the past so the solutions need a diverse set of experts at the table or in the lab.

The dynamism and fluidity of current trends and those yet unimagined will continue to influence and shape higher education’s future.  How do we design a change process nimble enough to make significant widespread change at all levels? I heard some fantastic ideas from University of Michigan President, Mary Sue Coleman, who gave this year’s Atwell Lecture.  Sponsored by the American Council on Higher Education, her address, “Innovate, Disrupt, Repeat,” focused on the need for universities to become more innovative and entrepreneurial, using her own institution and state—which was hit early and hard by the 2008 recession—as an example of what can be done.

This kind of freeform energy channeled into a product or market-based solution reminds me of pop-up culture and guerrilla art. Often put together on a wing and a prayer or a whim and a couple of good friends, pop-ups can act as informal, unacknowledged market research projects to try out a new store location or a new product. Artists and musicians create pop-up spaces to release new work or just to engage with their community in a more intimate and direct way.

These “events” are a lot like Startups, there is a strong fascination with the temporary, the here-today-and-gone-tomorrow. This urgency can be the perfect energy to foster ideas and reactions, a place to test business models developed around new solutions.

How can we bring this dynamism to Richard Bland College? We’ve definitely been bitten by the innovation bug and we’ll see evidence of our creativity at the First Annual Student Expo on Friday, April 25th. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, the Student Expo features students from across disciplines presenting their projects and research to the entire campus community.  Let’s build on this energy and initiative with more programs that foster innovation, interdisciplinary research, and that triple bottom line.

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