Grant expands innovation and entrepreneurship program

Grace Berchem

A $23,000 grant from the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance will go towards continued advances in Lawrence University’s innovation and entrepreneurship program.
This rapidly growing program began in 2008, incorporating the economics and physics departments with the course “In Pursuit of Innovation.” The program has expanded to include “Entrepreneurship and Financial Markets” and “Entrepreneurship in Arts and Society.”
All of these courses require that students invent or create something. It is still unclear what this will culminate into in the newer courses, but the innovation course has already inspired many creative and practical inventions.
One student team invented a hand sanitizer machine with a sensor that alerts people to sanitize their hands when walking into a room. This device is intended for hospitals and clinics where infection rates are high.
As part of the project, the students had to develop a plan that would make their invention accessible to medical institutions. However, they have not yet been able to implement this plan.
Assistant Professor of Economics Adam Galambos, who teaches the course, noted that the grant might actually make it possible for students to act on their plans and introduce their products into society.
Plans have been made to include in the future faculty and students from all disciplines. The interdisciplinary element is vital to the success of the program. For example, there is a course in development that would potentially bring together the skills and interests of English and art students to create broadsides, prints with writing on them, to combine printmaking and poetry.
“We have a chance to create something together,” said Galambos in regards to the importance of involving the whole Lawrence community.
The program also intends to work to incorporate the greater Appleton community. At this time, local entrepreneurs are coming to Lawrence to talk with students, but there are plans to take this further. With continued support and expansion of the program, Lawrence students could have the chance to experience the world of entrepreneurship first-hand.
The hope is that small businesses or non-profit organizations in the area would be able to come to the students with problems. The students would then have the opportunity to propose solutions and see their plans in action. This would present meaningful real-world experience by providing the chance to apply academic skills in a way that benefits society.
“I envision entrepreneurship as taking the new ideas that are created and finding a mechanism so they have value for a sustainable enterprise” said Professor of Economics Merton Finkler.
Currently, a proposal is in the works that would create a physical place for students to collaborate and interact with the community. This space would also serve as a reminder of Lawrence’s dedication to innovation and entrepreneurship.
As this is still a very new idea, it remains unknown whether the space would take the shape of a new area on campus or a storefront in downtown Appleton.
The number of vacant storefronts is ever increasing along College Avenue. Ideally, Lawrence’s program would be academic, but also practical in its ability to serve the community.
“Recession makes people think about what they want to do,” said Finkler. “It is the mother of opportunity and the mother of invention.”
The innovation and entrepreneurship program would provide an alternate way to look at the problems presented by the economic recession. This program requires thinking creatively to solve problems, communicating ideas and taking risks.
“Many students here are natural entrepreneurs. They learn a lot of extremely useful skills increasing the chances of creating something really new and really powerful,” said Galambos.
Though there is an entrepreneurial focus to the program, the Lawrence faculty has made a point to distinguish this from a business program. Galambos stated, “We don’t want a business program. Many people think we are trying to [create one]. We are not.”
Instead, the new focus on an entrepreneurial mindset has taken shape as a result of frustration over the limits of what a textbook can teach. Innovation and entrepreneurship are important concepts when it comes to the study of economics, but they are not easily discussed in textbook form.
This program will provide a way for the entire campus community, not only economics students, to realize the ways in which skills and knowledge can be applied to life outside of the college to bring about sustainable, meaningful change for society.