On October 5, 2016, Duke University and the Global Innovation Forum co-hosted a breakfast discussion for the university, startup, business and policy communities about how universities can foster innovation and entrepreneurship globally to empower students and evolve the university’s relationship with society. Participants from Duke and other universities, DC policymakers and others discussed current efforts at universities to foster innovation and the role public policy plays in enabling innovation at the university level and beyond.

What We Learned

Takeaways from the discussion.

The relationship between the university and society is changing to reflect 21st century realities.

“The university is going to have to make clear its value proposition to the people who pay their bills. That’s going to involve taking the fundamental knowledge that grows in the university and turning it into real actions that have real impact on real people’s lives.”

“Of the top 5 tech companies in the U.S., none of the founders felt that they were helped by the entrepreneurship programs at their universities. If you want to attract good students and good faculty, you need to have these programs today. And if you have enough universities doing this, it will feed an innovative attitude we should have in our country that will enable us to continue to be the role model for countries around the world who want to do the same.”


Barriers remain to turning today’s universities into global innovation centers-of-excellence of the future.

“We view the federal funding shortfall as an invisible crisis and a long-term threat to our capacity to innovate because that basic fundamental research isn’t replaced by the private sector and other countries are drastically increasing the percent of GDP that they put into their own basic research accounts.”

“Students need to have an understanding of how to deal with a world full of change, ambiguity and risk. Universities aren’t good at teaching things that don’t fall into academic disciplines, like entrepreneurship.”

“If we get serious about talent development, the United States is the best country in the world for that. What if we made it part of our thinking to identify and encourage kids who have entrepreneurial attitudes and skill?”

Government plays a role in enabling innovation.

“One of the reasons we’re so [in favor of] TPP is that we need to decrease the distance between us and the rest of the world. If we can do that on a regulatory basis, we can encourage a flow of capital to support the growth of innovation.”


“There is a lack of information for these startups [around regulatory markets and jurisdiction] because there is a glow around the startup and VC communities that isn’t tethered in a way that’s driven to a public outcome.”

“Congress should put together a fully-chartered entity that gets IP from the national labs and universities to create the largest compilation of IP in the world. They can then go in and pick out some winners with partners like ARPA-E. It can then go to market and the shareholders and IP-owners can be rewarded.”

“Typically we think of startups coming from the university or national lab then leaving. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and others are exploring the converse: to allow teams of scientists and engineers who have a great idea but aren’t able to attract venture investment to use our national labs as an incubator to reduce the capital intensity of their startup.”

Culture is important to fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.

“What people want to hear about the United States around the world is how our country has become so innovative and how we’re able to reinvent our business models in terms of companies and secondly how they can attach to our great universities.”

“We’ve seen countries around the world build sovereign venture capital funds and government-supported incubators – those things generally fail if the culture doesn’t support it. The number one thing that creates an environment for entrepreneurship and one thing that universities can do is focus on the cultural aspect.”

“The rockstars for young people today are innovators. People think that if you’re an innovator, you could become famous, rich, and solve some problems for the world.”