October 30, 2022

Back to Boulder: Why Innovation and Entrepreneurship Matter

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I’m just back from a trip Naropa University, a small liberal arts college in Boulder, CO, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  It was a nostalgic trip as much as it was a new beginning.  It’s been more than twelve years since I last visited Naropa, where I worked for about a decade during the exciting period wherein the business accelerator Techstars was launched in Boulder.  And this, my return visit, would be for the amazing opportunity to join the Board of Trustees of the University.  

While heading up Continuing Education for Naropa in the early 2000’s, I encountered a number of innovative leaders from the tech sector as well as startups from across different industries. I didn’t know it at the time, but Naropa and Boulder were planting the seeds of entrepreneurship within me which would later inform my work at the College of DuPage, and eventually lead to the birth to the regional business incubator and accelerator now known as Innovation DuPage.  Here are some ways that those seeds continue to flourish:

Over the past twelve years with College of DuPage, I’ve had the good fortune to meet hundreds if not thousands of regional employers. At the same time, I’ve worked with an extremely talented team to develop short-term training programs to help keep their employees up to date on the professional and technical skills needed to not just stay competitive, but to lead their industries. The training trend that I do not see going away is the call from employers to incorporate innovative solution-based thinking; in other words, employing an entrepreneurial mindset.

Typically we think of exciting startup tech companies when we think of entrepreneurship, but the reality is that entrepreneurs run restaurants, retail stores and provide a whole host of services in addition to starting tech companies. Increasingly, all companies are tech enabled, as the World Economic Forum reminds us that we are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, wherein rapid change requires increased interconnectivity across industries and between customers and the service providers and product makers.  In other words, entrepreneurship is universal and can be utilized by everyone.  

The culture of innovation is also picking up steam across higher education institutions.  At the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship’s (NACCE) recent annual conference in Boston, COD President, Dr. Brian Caputo joined a panel of college presidents discussing the need for innovative teaching and learning in the skilled trades. This February in Nashville, the National Council for Continuing Education and Training (NCCET) will continue this focus of the evolving role of higher education as a provider of innovative programs, services and solutions. Innovation DuPage and College of DuPage efforts were highlighted at the NACCE conference and will be featured again at the NCCET conference next February.

For the economic prosperity of the Chicago Suburbs, focusing on the entrepreneurial mindset, combined with sharing business best practices through education and training, is paramount. As both employers and educators, we have to be obsessed with finding new ways to solve business challenges while designing innovative programs and methods of teaching to prepare tomorrow’s leaders for growth and prosperity.  Academia, industry and government economic development stakeholders must work together like never before to ensure our region and nation remain uniquely qualified to invent the solutions and services that differentiate the US from other markets.

And to think, these developments and this evolution of thought started in Boulder, CO some fifteen years ago.  

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