While many aspects of the college experience are steeped in tradition, every year more college graduates are leaving the customary path and seeking less traditional methods of employment, most notably, as entrepreneurs. The number of graduates choosing to become their own boss is growing, and whether they are designing new mobile applications, developing new products or winning grants to support innovative social change, the first job many will hold is the position of "entrepreneur."

While entrepreneurial success may look spontaneous at times, it is more often the result of skills developed by way of experience and repeated failure. Thankfully, these skills are also being taught and honed just like in any other discipline at our regional universities, where students are exposed to the practice of entrepreneurship and provided a supportive space for testing their ideas. Just as a great idea, risk taking, capital, mentorship and perseverance are all necessary for entrepreneurship, so too is the environment, or ecosystem, around the entrepreneur. Increasingly, industry and higher education are becoming vital partners in building and nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

My alma mater, UMBC, was among the first universities in the state to begin teaching entrepreneurship outside of the traditional business-school box. With support from the Kauffman Foundation, UMBC's Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship seeds entrepreneurship education throughout the curriculum in 70 courses spanning science, technology, arts, humanities and social sciences. Every year this program exposes the principles and excitement of entrepreneurship to over 5,000 students, nearly 40 percent of the entire student body.

UMBC is also home to the first university-affiliated research and technology park in the state, bwtech@umbc, where more than 100 companies contribute to the regional economy and provide entrepreneurial internship experiences for students in a variety of hot fields such as the environment and cyber security. Currently, more than 80 students at UMBC are employed by companies residing in bwtech@UMBC.

UMBC is not the only university in Greater Baltimore that has dedicated resources to entrepreneurship, however. University of Maryland, Baltimore and Johns Hopkins University have both opened BioPark facilities to support and house growing companies in the life sciences and health care fields. These facilities are currently home to successful companies like Gliknik, Noxilizer and PathSensors, to name a few. Additionally, this past April, DreamIt Health Baltimore completed their demo day after an intense four month program that helped accelerate nine start-ups along the business path. Johns Hopkins not only provided the space and majority of the funds required to drive the program, but five out of the nine start-ups enrolled had ties to Johns Hopkins University or Medical School.

Other local universities, such as Towson, Loyola and Stevenson, are helping to cultivate our entrepreneurial "ecosystem" with their own programs. TowsonGlobal, Towson's business incubator program, hosts an annual competition that provides start-ups and student businesses with mentorship and networking opportunities as well as a chance at a cash prize. This year two of the five finalists in the competition were Towson student businesses and another was co-founded by a Towson alumnus. Meanwhile, Loyola MBA students were given an invaluable experience on a recent field study trip to Silicon Valley. There, the students were able to meet some of the cutting edge innovators at highly successful companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Plug-n-Play.

Stevenson University has also become a hotbed of entrepreneurship with its award-winning Career Architecture process. The program guides students along the path to success through their college career by helping them find their areas of expertise, providing them with internship experience and building strong professional relationships for the post-graduation world, translating into a 92 percent student placement rate. In the fall, Stevenson will be taking the program even further by opening a Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, a free online educational component of the Career Architecture process.

These are great stories of success, and there is tremendous forward momentum. This year, the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore (EAGB) partnered with the Baltimore Collegetown Network and UMBC to create the Maryland Technology Internship Program (MTIP). The MTIP was made possible as a result of a bill (HB 1317) sponsored by state Del. Samuel I "Sandy" Rosenberg. The goal of MTIP is to provide college students, recent graduates and veterans with internships at small innovative businesses in the technology sector. Through these internships, MTIP will provide growing companies with the employees they need with the hope that these young professionals remain in the region, become future business leaders and further nurture the ideal regional ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurial development.

Entrepreneurial success does not occur overnight, but by working together to foster stronger relationships between industry and higher education, we will make Greater Baltimore an environment where entrepreneurship thrives, innovation is fostered and robust industry growth is assured.

Tom Sadowski is president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore. His email is jtsadowski@greaterbaltimore.org.


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