Princeton-Wharton program brings entrepreneurial education to faculty members

Friday, Feb 12, 2021
Wright Seneres

As part of Princeton's efforts to transform research into solutions for society, a new program that trains faculty in how to build successful startups took place this January. At the Princeton-Wharton Entrepreneurship Executive Education program, eleven Princeton faculty and researchers completed a week of intensive training. 

The initial cohort of faculty innovators engaged in activities led by faculty from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania around idea generation, building and scaling an organization, and raising funds. These innovators came together from across many disciplines around campus, from engineering to the arts. 

Class photo from Wharton executive education program for Princeton faculty

A class photo from the inaugural Princeton-Wharton executive education program. Image by Wright Seneres. 

“Innovation at Princeton is about bringing a positive impact to society,” said Vice Dean for Innovation Rodney D. Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering. “This executive education program is one way we are helping Princeton faculty and researchers create societal benefits out of their scholarly work.”

The program is designed to help Princeton faculty take on advisory roles at companies and organizations formed around innovations from their laboratories and scholarship. Although faculty members' primary responsibilities are research and teaching, startups and small businesses can develop university discoveries into products and services to address today's challenges and economic growth.

Peter Jaffé, the William L. Knapp ‘47 Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, enrolled in the class to learn how to translate his research on methods that improve water quality into technologies for everyday use. “We have a series of patents and technologies that we hope in the not too distant future may be ready to license out or do a startup,” Jaffe said. The program helped him visualize his options, including serving as a scientific advisor to a startup. “It’s nice to have it laid out.” 

Nicoleta Acatrinei, associate research scholar at the Princeton Faith and Work Initiative at the Keller Center, is developing the My Trenton: COVID-19 and Race digital tool for the Trenton Mayor’s Office. The project will provide the City of Trenton with data and analysis necessary to design adequate public policies to reorganize civil servants' work during and after the pandemic, to ensure both the quality of public services and the employees' mental health. 

While attending the course, she developed the confidence to know that her idea was feasible. “With the tools we have at Princeton and this training from The Wharton School, I was able to picture it. I know what I want to do, but it’s the ‘how’ that became more clear,” Acatrinei said. 

Bent-Jorgen Permutt, a lecturer in visual arts at the Lewis Center for the Arts and an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, gained confidence and an entrepreneurial roadmap for how to re-focus his production company, Perlmutt Productions. “I got really excited about the idea of trying to figure out how to take this production company I've had for years, and either start a new company, or evolve it in a way that felt more entrepreneurial,” said Perlmutt. “What this program really made me realize is how similar independent filmmaking is to pure entrepreneurship.”

Ethan Mollick, associate professor of management at the Wharton School, led the program along with Wharton colleagues Sara Gao, Yaa Keene and Joe Waclawski. The Wharton team tailored the information to each faculty member's levels of entrepreneurial experience. “Ethan was able to help each of us, regardless of the stage of our project. He and the Wharton team did it very well even though some other [attendees’] ideas were more advanced.” 

An added benefit from the program is the increased collaboration among the faculty on campus. During the training, Perlmutt connected with fellow attendee Christina T. Collins, lecturer in anthropology. “She gave me feedback on not only my business idea, but also offered to discuss a course I'm teaching on representation and documentary filmmaking [at the Lewis Center]. As an anthropologist, I’m assuming she’ll have a lot of good ideas on how to approach this idea of what culture is in the first place, and who's within your culture, who's outside of it,” said Perlmutt.  

The executive education program is a Princeton Innovation collaboration between the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council and the Office of Technology Licensing, both part of the Office of the Dean for Research. “We were very pleased with the results of this first entrepreneurship executive education course,” said Anne-Marie Maman, Class of 1984, executive director of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Council. “Our objectives were to make all disciplines at the university feel included, and for each faculty member to gain clarity in their entrepreneurial thinking. From the responses we received, we believe that these objectives were met.” 

“One of the key goals of our office is to provide support to Princeton researchers in fulfilling their entrepreneurial ambitions, and getting their startups off the ground,” said Tony Williams, New Ventures Associate at the Office of Technology Licensing. “This new opportunity for Princeton faculty to work with, and learn from both World-leading experts in innovation at Wharton, and also their entrepreneurial peers from across the Princeton campus, is one of the biggest steps we’ve taken towards that goal.”

The Princeton-Wharton program will return in June for a new cohort of Princeton faculty and researchers. Applications will open in the late spring at the Princeton Innovation website.  

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