Skip to main content

Kauffman Foundation helps ideas take flight at ASU

March 27, 2007

While students at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Christina Hobson and Brent Foster came up with an idea for a product they believed could help improve the quality of life for older adults. The prototype device was the result of a research project that investigated the deterioration of balance control as people age.

Now ASU students majoring in bioengineering and computer systems engineering, respectively, Hobson and Foster, along with economics major Jonathan Mullen have entered the world of entrepreneurship. Recipients of $27,500 through ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, the team members have launched their new Venture, BioEnginuity, which produces assistive-training devices.

“The Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative is one of the broadest student entrepreneurial programs in the country,” says Julia Rosen, assistant vice president for economic affairs. “All key elements necessary to launch a new venture are offered through Edson including workspace, mentoring and networking opportunities. To date, Edson ventures have received $1.55 million in external funding and in-kind services – clear evidence that our model is highly effective and has spurred interest and action in entrepreneurship in our students,” added Rosen.

InnovationSpace professors Prasad Boradkar (center) and Mookesh Patel (far right) work with students to develop society-serving products that create market value.

Edson is one of many programs and initiatives that are positioning ASU to become the most entrepreneurial university in the country, and perhaps the world. Most recently, the university was designated a leading entrepreneurial university, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to the university to extend access to entrepreneurship education university-wide.

“ASU was chosen because of its bold and innovative approach to creating a university that questions the status quo and takes on big issues,” says Judith Cone, vice president of the Kauffman Foundation. “Also, since ASU is one of the largest universities, it means Kauffman would be able to reach many students through this relationship. We believed that the leadership of ASU already demonstrated an entrepreneurial approach and that through the Kauffman Campuses, that entrepreneurial thinking could extend to thousands of students.”

Through the Kauffman Campuses Initiative, ASU aspires to become a “University as Entrepreneur,” that is, a university that acts in entrepreneurial ways to achieve greater impact in the Phoenix metropolitan area and beyond.

According to Kimberly Loui, executive director of ASU’s Office of University Initiatives that is spearheading the initiative, ASU is pioneering the vision for a New American University. This provides an entrepreneurial framework for the institution “to act quickly, take calculated risks and engage communities in inventive and meaningful ways.”

What is the University as Entrepreneur?

The University as Entrepreneur is a university-wide umbrella initiative for all of the entrepreneurship opportunities at ASU, both new and existing. Through this initiative, which is made possible by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the university aims to transform the entire culture at ASU into one that is entrepreneurial at its very core and in every aspect of its research, teaching and service to the community. The effort crosses all disciplines from business, engineering and information technology to nursing, journalism and the arts.

“Becoming a University as Entrepreneur will push us further toward our vision as a New American University,” President Michael Crow says. “It is about finding ways for the university itself to act in entrepreneurial ways as we create an environment that promotes and advances the high-energy creativity of our faculty, staff and students. As we unleash that creativity, we will focus on generating positive impact for our community and positioning ASU as a model for academic enterprise.”

ASU defines entrepreneurship as the spirit and process of creative risk-taking and innovation that leverages university knowledge to spur social development and economic competitiveness. The vision is to establish ASU as an entrepreneurial university that both equips its students to be successful in an increasingly entrepreneurial society and uses knowledge and resources to positively impact society.

“The new reality is, instead of being passive and waiting to see what the world will do with your work, take ownership and think about what you can do with your work,” says Jewell Parker Rhodes, Piper Endowed Chair and artistic director of the Piper Center. “You can talk about students being entrepreneurial or being enterprising, but you are really talking fundamentally about students getting the knowledge and having the opportunities to forge their own life path, a path that will benefit them, their families, their communities and society.”

What are ASU’s entrepreneurship goals?

The model from the beginning has been to position entrepreneurship at ASU in such a way that it is wholly owned and integrated throughout the university, rather than through one particular unit or office. Sixteen principal investigators are named on the Kauffman grant, each of whom is responsible for a particular area of implementation.

Community, student and national advisory boards will also play a pivotal role in the strategic development of ASU’s vision for entrepreneurship. In addition, four Student Entrepreneurship Ambassadors have been named – one to represent each campus – who will help market opportunities to the student body. They are:

• Lauren Dunning, a sophomore in nonprofit leadership & management (Downtown campus).

• Kelley Stewart, a senior double major in applied psychology and multimedia writing (Polytechnic campus).

• Karen Johnson, a junior marketing major (Tempe campus).

• Denisse Leon, a senior in social and behavioral sciences (West campus).

Over the five years of the Kauffman grant, and beyond, ASU envisions entrepreneurship as becoming more and more embedded until it becomes a seamless part of the life and culture of ASU. As a Kauffman Campus, ASU’s goals are to:

• Graduate entrepreneurial students by creating opportunities available to students in any degree program.

• Stimulate faculty entrepreneurship by empowering faculty to approach their work in entrepreneurial ways.

• Strengthen Phoenix’s economic infrastructure by identifying and meeting economic needs.

• Unleash entrepreneurial energy by encouraging collaborative activity across units.

• Become a leader for entrepreneurship by expanding upon community and industry partnerships and sharing best practices without national and global peer institutions.

Preparing students for success

ASU’s greatest impact will be achieved through its 63,000 students as they take the skills and knowledge they have learned into every market sector across the globe. By creating an entrepreneurial culture across campuses, through coursework and experiential learning, ASU will be imparting skills to the next generation of leaders.

The University as Entrepreneur initiative will involve academic opportunities for all students. Some of the plans include an introductory entrepreneurship course called “My Life Venture” that will be open to all students in a combination of face-to-face and online formats; a university-wide Knowledge Entrepreneur certificate; a self-assessment of entrepreneurial interest at new student orientation; online resources and academic advising to facilitate the process of enrolling students in programs that are best suited to them; and $2,000 Entrepreneur Advantage Project grants for students’ projects. (Visit

Faculty members are key to integrating entrepreneurship within the academic curricula. To encourage faculty to create greater access to entrepreneurship across disciplines, a Student Pathways Award will provide funding for teams of faculty and staff to develop collaborations across entrepreneurial programs and courses.

Advancing networks for innovation

Entrepreneurial activity, by its very nature, requires a diverse set of skills and thrives across ASU within and among several multi-disciplinary centers and programs. These networks for innovation will uniquely advance the competitiveness of the Phoenix metropolitan area by expanding linkages to a number of different areas. The new initiatives include:

• The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication is creating the Center for New Media Entrepreneurship, an interdisciplinary laboratory environment where students can work on the creation of multi-media projects.

• The College of Nursing & Healthcare Innovation, the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and the College of Design’s InnovationSpace will work together with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to develop a Center for Healthcare Innovation & Clinical Trials. This center will be the first in the nation to design, develop and test medical products to improve health care.

• Faculty members as well as teams of InnovationSpace students will be involved in partnerships that will lead to the commercialization of products with other ASU units.

• Graduate students in Arts, Media and Engineering will collaborate with industry and community partners to deploy and test experiential media in real-world situations.

• A new Performing Arts Venture Experience - p.a.v.e. - has been launched in the School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger College of the Arts. The program supports students and faculty engaged in arts entrepreneurship.

Engaging our communities

ASU is not only an academic institution, but a driver of economic development. To spur increased innovation in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the university must first understand the community’s foundation for innovation. To do so, ASU faculty will conduct a study of the community’s entrepreneurial landscape that will serve as a research foundation to support institutional investment.

The outcomes of what is being called the Phoenix innovation study will include a multi-dimensional map of the community that will become an online database accessible to community members and legislators. The map will focus on identifying barriers faced by small and micro-enterprise business owners as they grow their businesses and promising strategies to overcome these barriers.

The research team also will determine the characteristics of innovative entrepreneurship that are distinguishing and can be replicated, the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, and how these conditions interact in the economic climate of Phoenix.

Matching resources locally

While the Phoenix innovation study will help ASU meet community needs, the university also will increase the impact of its education resources for the community through expansion of such programs as ASU Technopolis and the Spirit of Enterprise Center.

SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, will function as the physical hub for University as Entrepreneur and as an entry point for local and global enterprises, non-profit organizations, government agencies and schools to access ASU entrepreneurial talent.

“We view SkySong as the front door to entrepreneurship at ASU, assisting entrepreneurs and innovators with local, national and global market expansions,” Rosen says. “SkySong will be a place for students to advance their ventures and where ASU Technopolis, our well-established and rigorous program that educates and connects entrepreneurs, to expand its operation. It will be a rich and dynamic environment that puts service providers, venture capitalists, investors, attorneys, and accountants side-by-side with entrepreneurs naturally breeding creativity and success.”

SkySong will house ASU’s technology transfer processes through Arizona Technology Enterprises (AzTE), ASU’s intellectual property commercialization unit, and the Technology Venture Clinic, in which students participate in the technology venturing process gaining real-world experience in commercialization and business strategy.

The Arts, Media and Engineering program and InnovationSpace – which brings together teams from visual communication design, industrial design, business and engineering – will work on product development at SkySong in conjunction with industry partners, local schools and cultural institutions.