You might not think of Brown University as a hot destination for prospective student-entrepreneurs, but the school’s new Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship (the “Center”) at the corner of Euclid and Thayer is clear evidence of a thriving entrepreneurial spirit on campus. “We don’t have a business school and as a result, we have much more freedom to define entrepreneurship expansively,” says Danny Warshay, the Center’s executive director. “The way I’ve always defined entrepreneurship for the 14 years I’ve been teaching it here is from the perspective of liberal arts as a structured process for problem-solving and solving problems of all kinds.”
Approaching entrepreneurship this way versus a narrower business or engineering school focus allows students from “every discipline, every department, every concentration” to consider entrepreneurship as a method for solving those problems, he adds. The student finalists for the school’s 2019 Venture Prize competition demonstrated this expansive approach. One entrant was developing a mesh to remove debris from blood, which reduces stroke risk. Another was creating an on-demand mobile charging service for electric vehicles, while a third was sourcing and selling nutritious cereal products made from teff grain with a goal of partially reinvesting profits with the Ethiopian farmers growing the grain.
The Center’s interior space is flexible. Walls can be moved to reconfigure the layout and provide privacy or encourage interaction. Lecture halls and conference rooms are available for meetings, and the building’s third floor is a dedicated space for student teams seeking a fixed workspace for a semester.
The Center is much more than a WeWork floor plan, however. Danny uses the term “scaffolding” to describe the educational and experiential programs that support Brown’s efforts. “The scaffolding around our teaching, what we call solutions with impact, encompasses three different areas,” he explains. “One is curricular, the second is co-curricular, and the third is venture support.”
Curricular support comes from academic research that underpins the Center’s entrepreneurship training. Students earn credit for these classroom courses and the school is hiring more faculty for its entrepreneurship program, Danny points out.
Co-curricular learning opportunities take place outside the classroom and can include internships with overseas venture startups. The center also hosts events, speakers, and workshops. These sessions are open to the general public and are often livestreamed; Danny reports that many attendees have no formal affiliation with Brown.
Venture support includes funding. “We’re not only motivating students to learn about entrepreneurship, we’re empowering them to do it,” he explains. “There’s a whole range of resources that are open primarily to students to enable them not only to learn this process but to implement it in a way that will empower them to solve the kinds of problems they’ve found and validated.”
Danny anticipates Brown will launch a certificate in entrepreneurship this spring. Students who complete the required five courses will receive an additional credential beyond their degree concentration. “It’s the first time that Brown has authorized the award of a credential beyond a concentration,” he says. “And we’re really excited about that.”