A new lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is mobilizing the entrepreneurial ecosystem by working to identify the conditions that foster student entrepreneurship.
The Entrepreneurship Science Lab at UW–Madison, housed within the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, is using data science to bolster student entrepreneurship on college campuses—and by extension, create greater opportunity for young innovators and increase economic prosperity for local communities.
“Entrepreneurship is a means of upward mobility,” says Jon Eckhardt, the lab’s founder and principal investigator. “That’s one reason people pursue entrepreneurship as a career. From society’s perspective, entrepreneurs are our source of new products and services, in addition to new jobs.”
The lab, which opened in January 2021 and includes two postdoctoral researchers, two PhD students, and several undergraduate students, is the formalization and natural evolution of extensive work in the campus entrepreneurial space by Eckhardt and fellow researcher Brent Goldfarb. Eckhardt is an associate professor of management and human resources at the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB). He is also the Pyle Bascom Professor in Business Leadership and a Discovery Fellow with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Goldfarb is an associate professor at the University of Maryland and the academic director of the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.
Distinct from other campus programs that foster entrepreneurship through means such as coursework, business plan competitions, or commercializing innovations, the lab is developing data-based insights to grow the number and success rate of student entrepreneurs. The research focuses on measurable outcomes and identifying mechanisms that drive those outcomes.
Eckhardt says that many students do not consider entrepreneurship as a career path, and he believes higher education can help fill in those gaps.
With the work of the Entrepreneurship Science Lab, “we’re conducting research to try to improve how students are prepared for the entrepreneurial economy, to be entrepreneurs and innovators.”
Current streams of research
The multi-disciplinary research team is working on a range of research projects that cover an array of topics and entities across the university.
“We are exploring new partnerships and research opportunities that will hopefully yield new insights that will have a campus-wide impact in ways that will leverage existing initiatives on campus,” Eckhardt says.
Some of the current research projects include:
- Studying new ways residence halls can foster entrepreneurship and enhance academic outcomes like graduation. (Lead: Clint Harris, postdoctoral researcher)
- Examining how COVID-19 may have impacted short-term business formation as well as long-term interests in entrepreneurship by students. (Lead: Chuan Chen, postdoctoral researcher)
- Investigating how the diversity of knowledge acquired by students may influence student interest in entrepreneurship. (Lead: Minah Park, WSB doctoral student in management and human resources)
- Examining how entrepreneurs can best describe their business ideas through startup pitches to investors in order to increase their odds of funding. (Lead: Bekhzod Khoshimov, WSB doctoral student in management and human resources)
Contributing to the economic forecast
Eckhardt hopes his research has an impact long after students graduate and leave campus, especially if entrepreneurs are more likely to stay in Wisconsin if they’ve started their endeavors while students at UW–Madison.
“Alumni who stay and build companies in Wisconsin contribute to our local communities in so many ways,” says Eckhardt. “Examples include Alex Kubicek of Understory, Alec Slocum and Adam Olien of ADOBO, and Jennifer Lane and Priyanka Verma of Laquerus—but there are so many others like them who got their start at UW–Madison and continue to make an impact here.”
And even if homegrown entrepreneurs do leave the state, their roots remain deep.
“Those entrepreneurs that leave who got their start at UW often remain closely tied to Wisconsin, and they serve as a significant resource for Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs” adds Eckhardt. “They help in numerous ways. They’re often the first people we call to help advise our students that are interested in entrepreneurship. They are active contributors who form a circle of expertise and resources that benefit companies that are based in Wisconsin.”
It’s one of the many aspects of UW–Madison that make this a prime location for Eckhardt’s line of research.
In addition, Eckhardt notes that organizations like American Family Insurance, StartingBlock Madison, 100state, gener8tor, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, and Capital Entrepreneurs, to name a few, serve as great launch pads for students.
“UW–Madison is a hotbed of innovation, where you have very high caliber students and faculty studying almost every topic at a very high level,” he says. “Coupled with a city like Madison, which over the last 10 to 15 years has built an infrastructure to support entrepreneurship, that really creates a platform to build on. Hopefully our work will help our students make the most of the opportunity.”