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Ambassadors help build academic culture of innovation and entrepreneurship

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urdue, ranked as one of America’s most innovative universities, leads land-grant institutions in startup companies and ranks third among U.S. universities behind Stanford and MIT. Agriculture in particular offers abundant opportunities for academic entrepreneurs to make their research socially impactful, says Christian Butzke, professor of food science and Purdue’s first Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fellow.

Butzke, an ag-tech entrepreneur himself, leads a cohort of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ambassadors in efforts to cultivate a systematic entrepreneurial spirit and academic mindset leading to use-inspired research commercialization and social entrepreneurship out of the College of Agriculture.

The ambassadors are proven and passionate mentors with firsthand entrepreneurial experience to engage other faculty and their graduate students. Butzke directs the I&E ambassadors to connect with colleagues who are working on novel ideas with commercialization potential and need guidance to enter Purdue’s extensive entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Participation in entrepreneurship activities is voluntary across the university. “We continue to prioritize our land-grant pillars of teaching, research and extension,” says Bernie Engel, associate dean of agricultural research and graduate education. “If entrepreneurship based on your research interests you, our vision is that the ambassadors can provide an avenue to navigate the process.”

“The I&E ambassadors are a key component to recruiting new ideas and encouraging faculty and graduate students to talk to OTC,” says Brooke Beier, senior vice president of commercialization in the Office of Technology Commercialization. “They’re a champion and coach to direct people to the right resource.”

Since April 2022, Beier has overseen both the OTC and Purdue Foundry to ensure the teams work cohesively, and a new, three-part structure is designed to clarify where faculty and graduate students should seek assistance.

  • A Purdue Technology Incubator will support Purdue-affiliated ideas that aren’t yet companies. A program manager, product development manager and funding manager will work with inventors and promising technologies to lower risks, develop business plans and find gap funding for prototype building.
  • The Startup Foundry will help Purdue-affiliated startups secure grants for capital and early-stage funding, recruit a management team, and create a website and marketing materials.
  • Purdue Ventures invests in startups through a variety of funds, including the Ag-Celerator and an investment fund for life sciences.

Such support will draw aspiring entrepreneurial scientists to the College of Agriculture, Butzke says: “It helps us recruit the best and brightest grad students and most innovative faculty, who can engage in use-inspired research that will benefit the greater good of society.

“This is part of making Purdue even more relevant to society and all our stakeholders in the future — an exciting place to work and a leader in this field,” he adds. “As a modern College of Agriculture and land-grant university, we have an opportunity to impactfully utilize the ideas, energy and the fantastic entrepreneurial ecosystem that we have here in Indiana.”

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