Entrepreneurs on Campus

The Globe and Mail has an interesting article about Canadian universities providing training and support to student entrepreneurs (Is University the Place to Learn to be an Entrepreneur?, Oct. 10). This reminded me of an earlier article in the New York Times about a U Penn student who designed a wireless battery recharging system for a campus innovation competition. (An Inventor Wants One Less Wire to Worry About, Aug. 10). She has filed patent applications in Canada, the U.S. and Europe for her wireless power transfer” system.

Entrepreneurship is a hot topic on campus these days. Countless student innovation competitions have sprung up all over North America. Among the best known are the Lemelson-MIT National Collegiate Student Prize. VentureWell (formerly the Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance) sponsors two competitions specifically aimed at biomedial and bioengineering students. Dozens of universities have started student business incubators and entrepreneurship and innovation centers.

Of course, students have been conceiving new products and businesses in their dorm rooms and library study carrels for decades. Here are just a few examples.

  • Bill Gates left Harvard in the mid-1970s in order to pursue his dream of starting a software company.
  • Michael Dell started Dell Inc. while attending the University of Texas at Austin.
  • Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, co-created the social networking service in his second year at Harvard.
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin created the initial version of Google while Ph.D. students at Stanford.

There are no age or educational requirements for filing a patent application, of course. Children as young as three years of age are named inventors on patents. But no patent office that I know of tracks or reports the age or education level of patent applicants. It would be difficult to determine how many university-age inventors file patent applications in a given year and of those how many are active students.

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