I was thrilled to receive the opportunity to deliver a lecture at the new Levi's Stadium in San Francisco – an amazing venue! I chose to highlight several strategic developments at Notre Dame that have helped us advance a deep and robust entrepreneurial ecosystem and laid the foundation for high impact in California and around the world.
My talk, “The Evolving Ecosystem For Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame,” began with a focus on the tremendous increase in research spending at the university (up 143% in the last decade to an annual level of $180M in FY 2015) and how the effort to commercialize more and more of this research is leading to more innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Invention disclosures, patents issued, active licenses, licenses to start-ups and licensing income are all trending up.
We cannot fulfill our mission to be a preeminent research university, to be that powerful force for good in the world envisioned by Father Sorin, without finding more ways to commercialize this research, to bring great new ideas to the marketplace for the common good. To help achieve that, the academy in recent years has created several one-year professional master’s programs, including the ESTEEM (Engineering, Science, Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Master’s) Graduate Program.
ESTEEM capstone thesis projects provide a real-world “sandbox” where graduate students can research, build, prototype, fail, pivot, validate, and ultimately develop go-to-market commercialization plans for Notre Dame research faculty, industry sponsors, or for themselves (as “founders”). Industry-sponsored capstone thesis have accelerated from zero in the early years of the program, when all were coming from faculty research, to 21 in the current cohort of 39 students. These global industry sponsors range from multi-billion dollar companies spanning multiple industries (pharma, advanced manufacturing, etc.) to startups and early-stage companies in biotech, cloud computing, fintech, smart ag, medical devices, and more.
Adding these projects has been a game-changer for ESTEEM because they critically enhance the student learning experience, help develop industry-faculty relationships, and provide sponsorship fee income that has helped to quadruple scholarship funding over the past few years. As an example, I highlighted CupPrint, a five-year-old company from Ireland whose thesis project involves the students’ starting a U.S.-based operation in South Bend – CupPrint USA – before they graduate. They will secure space, receive machinery from Ireland, create more than 20 jobs, and launch printed cup production by the time they are defending their thesis next May.
I closed the talk with a focus on how ESTEEM has played a key catalytic and collaborative role in launching other innovative programs within the Notre Dame community, as well as both locally and nationally, and how ESTEEM, along with other academic programming, will be a key component of what Notre Dame brings to the California Initiative. Strategic planning is underway to determine the optimal approach, construct, and timing of delivery in California, and we are beginning to work with Silicon Valley-based companies to secure sponsored capstone thesis projects by next June.
After the lecture, Greg Crawford and I moderated a panel discussion involving Dana Mead, a partner with Kleiner Perkins venture capital; Mark Foley, a Notre Dame graduate and CEO of Zeltiq; and Maribeth Rauh, a 2015 Notre Dame graduate working for Google. The discussion focused on what trends we are currently seeing in the Silicon Valley start-up world; what kind of talent the leading tech companies are seeking; how Notre Dame talent stacks up against the very best competition; and how our students can best position themselves for key internship and full-time job opportunities.
The California Initiative is integral to achieving our goals in all of those areas – and much more. A significant presence in California will also have a tremendous impact on our University ecosystem. We will establish exciting new partnerships for research in our laboratories where discovery will solve big problems and we will have access to resources and talent that will accelerate the process of bringing those discoveries to market. And perhaps most importantly, we will help lead – and impact the conversation of thought leaders – through our values, our distinct Catholic identity and character, and through all that is at the heart of Our Lady's University.