Nurturing the Next Generation of Bold Entrepreneurs

The innovation and entrepreneur ecosystem in Richmond is thriving. And that is, in part, because of the strong universities and corporations that call Richmond home. As the president of Virginia Commonwealth University and Chairman of the Virginia Biotechnology Park’s Innovation Council, I see every day the actions fostering the environment that landed RVA on CNBC’s “The Top 20 Metro Areas to Start a Business in America” list. The fact that we are an exceptional place for those who innovate and launch new business ventures is no surprise to me. Taking risks is in our DNA; we’re not what some might expect. We have the talent, resources, skills, and desire to collaborate with one another as members of the same community.

The Innovation Council, representative of the components of a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem, encourages collaboration and innovation of knowledge-based companies. We commit to the success of entrepreneurs in our region, while setting goals, and tracking progress to help them along the way. Whether they need help setting up a Phone System, grants from the government, or marketing advice, we do everything we can for local entrepreneurs. If we pinpoint a problem, we work for solutions. If we see a gap, we fill it. Along with maintaining a healthy innovation ecosystem, we continuously work to recruit and retain highly skilled and driven entrepreneurs in RVA.

My focus on innovation and entrepreneurship started during my time as president of Mission College in the late 1990s. In Santa Clara, California, the heart of Silicon Valley, we were surrounded by hundreds of entrepreneurs who realized the importance of turning good ideas into great value – not just monetarily, but to bring value to people and life. Since then, I have enjoyed bringing this conversation and focus with me everywhere I have gone.

I am grateful that Virginia Commonwealth University is located in an area that attracts and encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. At VCU, we have built a culture of innovation that advances the city and surrounding region. For the culture of innovation to be possible here, we must have collaboration between entrepreneurs and those willing to invest in their aspirations. For the university to be successful, we must play our part in growing an ecosystem that can retain the innovation and talent we produce.

VCU students bring their talents from all over the world and can further develop and define their ideas in a supportive environment. More than half of our 31,000 students are interested in starting a company. Perhaps they should take a look at the articles online that detail the many intricacies of starting a business just to give themselves a foundation – There might be students who dream of starting a business venture but might not have adequate capital to invest in a business property or the necessary inventory. The innovations in digitalization have opened up various avenues to set up an online business store, without the need to hold any inventory. For example, setting up a shopify dropshipping business could be one of such plausible options. We have made it our mission to ensure that these students, who study in all disciplines, have access to innovation and entrepreneurial pathways through our Venture Creation University initiative. This initiative focuses on instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in all VCU students. Success means not only producing the next generation of entrepreneurs and job creators, but also generating highly employable intrapreneurs that feed RVA’s growing innovation economy.

Since Venture Creation University’s launch three years ago, participation in innovation and entrepreneurship at VCU has increased twentyfold. One of our newest programs, the VCU pre-accelerator connects students who have brilliant ideas to seasoned entrepreneurs who are ready to lend expertise and help students realize their goals. Ventures created by students taking part in the pre-accelerator generated more than $1 million in income and 38 jobs in just one year.

Because we create pathways for students to explore and launch business ventures, our students boldly go forth and are showing the world they have so much to contribute – even before graduation.

Through the efforts of Virginia Commonwealth University and The Innovation Council, we are nurturing and producing the next generation of bold entrepreneurs and brilliant innovators.

CategoriesInnovators, Work

Michael Rao, Ph.D., became the fifth president of Virginia Commonwealth University and the VCU Health System in 2009 and has continued to cement VCU’s place among the nation’s premier urban, public research universities. Under the Quest for Distinction strategic plan, Rao is piloting strategic efforts focused on academic quality, student success and research that foster regional economic development and improve lives.