2015 Year in Review: What Innovation & Entrepreneurship Education Looks Like

“Since our Nation’s founding, our progress has been fueled by an inherent sense of purpose and ingenuity in our people.  Americans have more opportunities now than ever before to carry forward this legacy — to create something, to raise capital in creative ways, and to pursue aspirations.” – President Obama, Presidential Proclamation of National Entrepreneurship Month (November 2015)

2015 was a year of opportunity for University Innovation Fellows to be co-designers of and contribute value in higher education. Today, innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) education can take a wide range of forms at our colleges and universities in the U.S. In addition to starting ventures, I&E education can also expose students to the mindsets and skillsets that make innovators and entrepreneurs successful, whether they start their own companies or join industry, government or the nonprofit sector. Faculty and students are seeing the benefit of exposure to an entrepreneurial mindset in all majors and career paths, and there isn’t one perfect model or collection of activities that can be used to teach students.

Across the country, students are taking the lead to understand their school’s needs and develop opportunities for their peers to learn an entrepreneurial mindset and skillset. The University Innovation Fellows are leading this charge. This national student program — run by the NSF-funded National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter), which is directed by Stanford University and VentureWell — empowers students to be change agents in higher education. Fellows collaborate with one another and with faculty and administrators at their schools to develop activities that teach entrepreneurship, innovation, design thinking and creativity including courses, spaces, workshops, events and organizations.

Below are just a few ways that Fellows are creating new opportunities for their peers to pursue their aspirations:

Startup weekendsUniversity of New Haven

  • In November 2015, a Fellow at the University of New Haven hosted 3-Day Startup, a 72-hour learning-by-doing campus workshop. This program is used by colleges across the globe to teach entrepreneurial skills to university students in an extreme, hands-on and experiential environment.
  • William Jewell College, Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri – Kansas City William Jewell Collegecollaborated to host #OneDayKC in April 2015. This event gave six teams of undergraduate and graduate students 12 hours to create and pitch a lean startup company that leverages Kansas City’s infrastructure and the Internet of Things to solve community challenges.



  • University of the Virgin IslandsFellows at the University of the Virgin Islands hosted a hackathon in November with 28 students from different majors who collaborated on ideas to impact the local community. The winning team designed the community service app “Win-Win.” This app’s goal is to raise awareness and participation in community service across the territory. App users will earn points for performing community service that could then be redeemed at local merchants for discounts and other specials.


University of Puerto Rico MayaguezK-12 engagement


Virginia Commonwealth UniversityCo-working spaces

  • A Fellow and several students from Virginia Commonwealth University created Indie Lab, a co-working community laboratory designed to provide access to equipment in a creative space in order to accomplish scientific projects. The space provides a membership program to supply aspiring scientists, artists and entrepreneurs with the tools necessary to perform safe and reliable experiments outside of higher education labs.
  • This Fall, Fellows at Kent State University created and launched The Fridge, an open co-working space in the library for students from all majors to work on collaborative projects. Fellows hosted a University Innovation Fellows Regional Meetup in the space in mid-November, where participants used the design thinking methodology to explore ideas around advising and mentorship.


Michigan TechFreshmen orientation

Pop-up classes

  • At James Madison University, the JMU X-Labs offer free, non-credit workshops to help faculty, students and community members learn new skills. Faculty and students also use JMU X-Labs as maker spaces and facilities to teach courses, with a future goal of offering 24-hour access to the campus community. In November, Fellows and faculty also hosted a University Innovation Fellows Regional Meetup in the X-Labs space, where attendees participated in design challenges and explored projects Fellows are implementing across the country.

  • Utah Valley UniversityA Fellow at Utah Valley University created a mobile cart with prototyping materials that can travel to multiple classrooms to teach design thinking. This pop-up model allows faculty to help students to engage with the methodology without having to create new curriculum, with the future goal of creating a dedicated makerspace on campus for this type of engagement.



  • Southern Illinois University CarbondaleAt Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Fellows enhance the entrepreneurial playing field for the region’s student entrepreneurs and innovators through Saluki Ventures. This incubator runs the Saluki Innovation Series, which offers a pitch competition, hackathon, marketing workshop and other events.


Student organizations

  • Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 1.21.14 PMNorth Dakota State University’s Fellows created the Hammock Initiative to encourage students to discuss ideas in a relaxed setting. As part of the #uifresh initiative, in August, they hosted the activity “I3: Ignite Innovative Ideas,” where students relaxed on hammocks and discussed innovative and entrepreneurial activities on campus and in the community.
  • Fellows at La Salle University created a 3D printing club to pique interest in entrepreneurship among students and establish a culture of making. The space features a white board where students can share new ideas and connect with others. In the future, the Fellows plan to collaborate with faculty on robotics and design thinking activities in the space.


Program Updates for 2015

  • Welcomed 274 of Fellows: 123 in Spring 2015 and 151 in Fall 2015.
  • Held largest (to-date) Annual Meetup, which took place at Google and Stanford’s in February 2015 with 157 Fellows and 12 faculty sponsors. Participants learned design thinking and lean startup strategies and worked on collaborative projects.
  • Created two national initiatives:
    • #uifresh: launched in March with 10 campuses, #uifresh introduces incoming STEM students to innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking and creativity. The number of campuses doubled to 20 in August by partnering with Epicenter’s Pathways to Innovation program.
    • Higher education commitment in honor of the first-ever White House Demo Day: 30 institutions committed to actions that will expand innovation and entrepreneurship education offerings in order to enhance the economic potential of colleges and universities and better prepare students to create products that benefit humankind.
  • Attended multiple conferences to share the impact of Fellows, including the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) for the first time. Members of Epicenter’s Research Team received two paper awards at the ASEE Annual Conference in Seattle, Wa.
  • Co-hosted two regional meetups at Kent State University (read one student’s perspective here) and James Madison University.

This is a high-level synopsis of 2015 and we’re excitedly looking toward the future and what 2016 will bring. Happy New Year!