Universities Hold the Key for DC-Area Entrepreneurship

An entrepreneurial culture is alive and well in the nation's capital, bolstered by a wave of successful startups of various shapes and sizes that are creating jobs and improving the world. In pursuing continued economic growth that is not dependent upon federal funds, the D.C. community must focus on encouraging and supporting more entrepreneurs. One clear path to accelerating the evolution of a startup culture, highlighted by the University of Maryland's recent recognition as the top public university for technology entrepreneurship in the 2013 StartEngine College Index, is through our local institutions of higher education. Their curricula, access to space and technology, and vast alumni networks make universities the perfect home for entrepreneurship, and their efforts to create a new generation of entrepreneurs need our community's support.

Education is a valuable element of an entrepreneurial environment, for it can shorten the learning curve and improve the likelihood of success. Higher education can also contribute to the development of a community's startup culture, creating more interest in and comfort with the prospect of entrepreneurship among minds seeking opportunities to put their creativity and intellect to use. With more federal and state funding, as well as private support to invest in faculty and educational curricula dedicated to teaching students how to launch and manage small businesses, our local universities can provide a powerful boost to local entrepreneurship.

Another critical element to startup success is suitable space and other practical resources for incubation of ideas and collaboration of teams. Universities can fuel startup efforts by making these resources available to students. Quite a few of our local universities have gone this route, providing incubation space and resources that enable students to advance their entrepreneurial interests without the hassle or expense of securing these items on their own. These efforts have resulted in a variety of thriving business, with many more on the way.

Perhaps the greatest impact that our local universities can have on entrepreneurship is through the use of their alumni networks. Among the alumni of our local institutions are countless successful entrepreneurs with both valuable advice and affiliations with sources of capital. Moreover, these alumni are often eager to give back. Social Ingot, a Maryland-based digital advertising startup, got its start with the support of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, a fellow alumnus. At George Washington University, alumni founded the GW Entrepreneurs Round Table, which connects students with mentors. Georgetown University has several pitch competitions in which student entrepreneurs present their ideas to a panel of alumni judges. Given their access to powerful alumni networks, universities are uniquely poised to accelerate the growth of startups.

D.C.-area universities have done a great deal recently to foster a culture of entrepreneurship. Our universities should be commended for creating and supporting these programs, and those of us outside the universities should do what we can to support these efforts -- either by encouraging legislative support, securing private funding, or providing more hands-on help. Given the impact that our local universities are having on entrepreneurship, I can think of few investments in our local economy that are more worthy.