STEVENS POINT, Wis.—Wisconsin’s public universities must embrace a culture of innovation and entrepreneurism to meet the challenges and opportunities facing our state, according to University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross.
Cross made his remarks Monday as the opening presenter of a two-day conference held in Stevens Point called “Pathways to an Entrepreneurial University.”
Cross challenged the role and traditional bureaucratic structure of higher education systems, arguing that they must change to meet 21st-century needs.
“An entrepreneurial university is more than a hotbed of ideas – it is also where ideas are translated into action,” said Cross, noting that the bureaucratic functions of university systems often get in the way.
“Universities by their very nature are risk averse. We have rich traditions and history…But if we are going to be more entrepreneurial, we must be better at taking calculated risks,” Cross said. “You see this at almost every UW institution. Campuses are investing a portion of their resources in areas they believe will help the institution in the future, help the community around the institution, and/or help the businesses with whom they have a relationship.”
Cross presented a number of conditions that can foster an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to leading universities and university systems:
- Being more open to and receptive toward taking calculated risks.
- Engaging in more public-private partnerships.
- Working outside of traditional boundaries and structures without the need to form new bureaucracies to direct or manage the work.
- Fueling innovation approaches by introducing new perspectives from within and outside of the university.
- Seeking out the “big problems” challenging our state rather than awaiting an invitation to do so.
- Rewarding innovative approaches to problem solving through resource allocation.
Making these approaches “actionable and measurable” is a key criterion to creating a culture of innovation and entrepreneurism within a university, Cross explained.
“The academic world is full of creative individuals,” he said. “As a leader in an academic organization for over 30 years now, I have heard plenty of ideas—some very good and some pretty bad. What is often lacking is not creativity in the idea-creating sense but innovation in the action-producing sense—that is, putting ideas to work.
Cross said the challenge is to change the culture of the university – and society – to value and appreciate entrepreneurship. The potential returns of doing so are significant.
“The UW System possesses the human and capital resources to be a powerful catalyst, one capable of truly transforming the state’s societal and economic conditions in ways that benefit all the people of Wisconsin,” Cross said.