By Bryce Edmonds
Entrepreneurship is an essential part of the UCLA Anderson DNA. Consider:
It’s a school named for a successful entrepreneur, John E. Anderson; with a building called Entrepreneurs Hall; which houses the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation; with the oldest business plan competition in the nation, the Knapp Venture Competition; a school that, now, in its world-class Rosenfeld Library, houses the state-of-the-art 10,000-square-foot Anderson Venture Accelerator — it’s gotta be in the UCLA Anderson water.
The Anderson Venture Accelerator, launching January 25, will be an integral part of UCLA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, creating a communal space for the university’s numerous schools — professional and undergraduate — to come together and develop world-changing ideas. “It’s not common for universities in the United States to have their different schools all physically located so close together and to have such easy access for faculty, researchers and students across them all to interact,” says Elaine Hagan (’91), executive director of the Price Center. “It allows for interesting collaborations across departments to occur. And solutions to the world’s problems are often at the intersection of departments.”
With co-working space for 45 people, a presentation area with the latest audio/video capability, and access to Anderson’s research librarians as well as guest speakers, topical seminars and “demo days” for resident companies, Anderson students will have the opportunity to seek out new ideas across campus, create and grow their own opportunities and develop the skills necessary to create and expand their businesses.
“We want to be a service to the whole campus, and we’re starting right here in our own backyard,” says Al Osborne, Jr., senior associate dean and professor of global economics, management and entrepreneurship. “At UCLA, there’s over $1 billion spent on research every year, and a lot of that research increasingly involves intellectual capital that can be exploited for those inventors. The accelerator represents an opportunity to pull those silos together here at the Anderson School.”
The ideal collaboration, Hagan and Osborne agree, would involve established researchers from the sciences, or creative undergraduates teaming with business students and professionals to commercialize the kinds of technologies that save lives or advance access to crucial information.
A History of Innovation
In the mid-1970s UCLA’s Graduate School of Management created the Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation course, placing UCLA on a short list of innovative schools teaching entrepreneurship. A few years later, Anderson became home to what is now the oldest business plan competition in the nation. The competition was later renamed the Venture Knapp Competition in honor of philanthropists Cleon “Bud” and Betsy Knapp, who fund the contest, participate in the final round of judging and bring a lifetime of entrepreneurialism to UCLA Anderson.
“Both of us are entrepreneurs,” says Betsy Knapp. “We have started and run companies. We’re interested in new business formation. It’s a part of business that is intriguing to us. But there are a lot of things that aren’t in the textbooks that we as entrepreneurs learned experientially.”
In 1991, the Association for Collegiate Entrepreneurs made it official: UCLA Anderson had the No. 1 entrepreneurial curriculum in the country. More awards were on the way, and in 1996 BusinessWeek surveyed nearly 5,000 business school graduates to find “the best entrepreneurial teachers” — and Anderson had three in the top 15: Osborne, founder and first faculty director of the Price Center; S. William Yost (’63), an adjunct professor of operations and technology management; and the No. 1 teacher in the nation, Bill Cockrum, adjunct professor of finance.
Just Build It
Osborne says Anderson’s new accelerator takes a history of entrepreneurial focus and fits it in perfectly with 21st-century MBAs. He told the Daily Bruin, “Active learning is an important element in any curriculum. No more playing around with things in theory — you have to do things in actuality and in real time.” The Anderson Venture Accelerator, he says, offers the ideal environment for the active learning that is compatible with the curriculum.
In fact, Hagan says the new facility shows Anderson’s dedication to its students and the entire UCLA campus, as well as a commitment to the learning and practice of entrepreneurship. At the same time, she says Anderson’s accelerator has slightly different goals than incubators at other universities. “We’re taking students through the entrepreneurial experience so they can understand if it’s right for them,” she says. “We’re helping them decide what role they would like to fill or whether or not they like collaborating. There’s an opportunity to learn about themselves.”
As part of that educational and personal journey, as well as Anderson’s commitment to learning while doing, Osborne says the accelerator’s work will reach far beyond campus. “It’s a highly visible sign of Anderson’s commitment to active learning,” he says. “But, more important, it supports the involvement of our students in seeking and bringing ideas that are of social value to the forefront.”
Under the oversight of the Price Center, programs will complement the center’s entrepreneurial curriculum. The accelerator’s director, entrepreneurs-in-residence, faculty members and other mentors will share their business development experience and well-developed networks in the entrepreneurial and early-stage investing communities. Mentors have been chosen based upon positive outlook, an entrepreneurial spirit and a track record of academic and professional achievement as executives, entrepreneurs and/or early-stage investors and advisors.
Most important, perhaps, the Anderson Venture Accelerator has been specifically designed to foster a sense of community among UCLA entrepreneurs engaged in the venture initiation process.
Into the Next
Los Angeles is home to the third-largest and fastest-growing technology ecosystem in the United States, and that ecosystem both supports and seeks students well-versed in entrepreneurial culture. The Anderson accelerator will be a giant piece in that startup puzzle. “It’s good for us and for the campus,” says Hagan. “It will be a great resource for the business community to seek out students who are passionate about entrepreneurship.”
Working toward that goal will require a cross-campus commitment to growth, and it will also represent a hands-on opportunity for Anderson alumni to further the school’s mission and, perhaps, become mentors themselves as well as provide financial support. “The Executive MBA Class of 2014 made support of the accelerator initiative part of the larger goals for their class gift,” Hagan says. “They also volunteered to help as mentors, and, given that they are Executive MBAs, they have a wide range of skills and knowledge to contribute.”
For his part, Osborne says the Anderson Venture Accelerator, in both practice and essence, perfectly encapsulates all that he’s worked for at Anderson — from his earlier days studying venture capital and private equity to being selected one of the top 15 best entrepreneurial teachers in the nation to creating one of the country’s premier centers for entrepreneurial studies. “Part of my joy is watching students develop and working with students who have a vision of a better future,” he says. “I am delighted to see the world and our enterprise become a little better than when I came here.”