By guest authors Irina Patterson and Praveen Karoshi
I am talking to Art Boni, director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship and professor of entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University.
Carnegie Mellon was one of the pioneers in introducing entrepreneurship courses nearly 40 years ago, in 1972. According to the university, today its Don Jones Center of Entrepreneurship averages three new business spin-offs every year. And, Carnegie Mellon University, the center’s incubation partner, each year supports an average of 10 new business spin-offs. In addition, Google, Apple, Intel, Microsoft, and Disney are campus residents providing students with many opportunities for entrepreneurial collaboration.
Irina: Hi, Art. Let’s start with a brief overview.
Art: I am a serial entrepreneur. I started out as an assistant professor of engineering at Yale University after receiving a PhD in engineering physics. I taught for about four years and decided that the academy was not for me.
So, I moved back to San Diego and spent about 10 years at what was at that time a small organization called Science Applications International Corporation – SAIC.
I basically got my entrepreneurial experience there. It was a technology-based conglomerate that became the country’s largest employee-owned technology company. It’s currently a public corporation with about $11 billion in sales. My role there was building autonomous business units in the ares of energy, environment, and health.
After about 10 years, I had the epiphany that I preferred working with early-stage technology companies rather than running mature businesses. So, I left and moved to Boston, and spent 13 years there. I basically hooked up with a technology organization that was interested in developing independent companies in the technology space.
My role there was to identify opportunities, build teams around them, raise a bit of capital, get products on the market, help them to get early market traction and then bring in a full management team to build and run the companies. I did four of those.
I ended up working for two different organizations doing similar things. One was Physical Sciences Inc. of Andover, Massachusetts, and the other was a Pharm-Eco Laboratories, Inc. of Lexington (since acquired by Johnson Mathey).
After I left Boston and moved to Pittsburgh, I did two things. First, for five years, I founded and ran the Office of Technology Management at the University of Pittsburgh. I was responsible for identifying commercial opportunities, putting together partnerships, and starting up companies, largely in the bio-medical space.
Then, I did venture capital work for a few years. I was a partner in a early-stage life science venture fund, and then I moved over to Carnegie Mellon.
Irina: Would you tell us more about the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship?
Art: Our program is based in the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University. The center I run is responsible for a teaching program that reaches graduate students, including MBAs in the business school and graduate students in other parts of the campus. We also teach undergraduates, both in the business school and across campus in the School of Computer Science, Mellon College of Science, and College of Engineering. So, we have a significant teaching program in entrepreneurship.
We also have a significant experiential component to that program that complements the in-class part. We have a fellows program that focuses on accelerating students in their entrepreneurial careers. We have an accelerator program where we identify promising opportunities for students who are working on forming companies while they are here, and the accelerator provides early-stage funding for them. It provides a little bit of space for them, and a lot of mentoring.
Irina: Does your incubator service only students or your local community as well?
Art: We service only students. We have partners who serve the community. There are a number of organizations in Pittsburgh that already service the community, and there is no need for us to compete with them. For example, Innovation Works has a program it calls Alpha Labs that focuses on providing similar services: mentoring, coaching, space for local entrepreneurs. I believe they offer a $20,000 to $25,0000 investment over a three-month period with the idea that during this period the participants will launch a product.