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Neu Magazine sat down with the Executive Director of Grand Valley’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Kevin McCurren, to talk about GVSU’s recent acceptance into the Pathways to Innovation Program and what it means for West Michigan’s growing entrepreneurial landscape. McCurren is one of the GVSU’s Pathway to Innovation team leaders.

Neu Magazine: What is the Pathways to Innovation program and why is it beneficial for Grand Valley to be apart of it?

Kevin McCurren: Pathways to Innovation is a program that is sponsored and funded by the National Science Foundation. The partners that are executing on the grant are Standford University and Venture Well. The purpose of the grant and the program is to introduce entrepreneurship into engineering and other STEM based programs, and that’s why we got involved with it. We are trying to introduce entrepreneurial concepts, teaching processes and customer discovery into the engineering school and learning to work better with them. We just took it one step further and said, “Lets bring in a few other colleges.”

NM: What other colleges are involved?

KM: Pathways to Innovation requires two team leaders, and the team leaders from Grand Valley are myself and Dr. John Ferris in the engineering school. So, the team is comprised of John, myself, Professor of Nursing Lori Houghton-Rahrig, and Professor of Liberal Studies Danielle Lake. Dr. Linda Chamberlain (Technology Commercialization Center) will also be on the team, and we will probably also include Spectrum Health Innovation.

NM: How does that impact the experience of students?

KM: The first program that we worked with at Venture Well was called University Innovation Fellows. I am the faculty advisory for the University Innovation Fellows and that is where engineering students and other students do the same thing we do in the Pathways program at the faculty level, but they do it at the student level. They try to develop programs around creating more entrepreneurship in these programs. We’ve had three University fellows– Jonathan Cook, Catherine Christopher and Leah Bower–and they started developing idea sessions on campus.

So there are 13 colleges and universities that are on a cohort. The team leaders went to Standford and found out how the program works, and then we took the whole team to Phoenix (AZ), as did the rest of those colleges and universities, and basically learned the process. Prior to going down there we had to do an entrepreneur landscape of the campus. When we were down there we had to create an exercise called strategic doing. Its a planning process that came out of Purdue University–basically an action plan for something you do to change the structure of your campus and your university.

NM: In what ways does this impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Grand Rapids?

KM: The way its going to impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem is it will create a ground of faculty based strategies on how we can work together on a more entrepreneurial basis.

For instance…a lot of projects that come into Grand Rapids or Grand Valley come through the engineering school and their partners there. After they solve the engineering problem, they turn around to the business school and they say, “Oh, can you guys create a company out of this?” So, why don’t we all look at the problem when it gets introduced? Do an opportunity assessment early on. The other thing we decided to do was to try to hold a 5×5 here at Grand Valley.

So part of our team doing plan was creating an imagine statement. Our imagine statement was, “Imagine if we had a curriculum where students worked on real world problems to find real world solutions, and work on programs and projects that impact the community and will be a learning experience not only for the students but for the community and the university.” That is kind of where we went. We identified five things that we can do in this pathway.

The highest potential (idea) that we got out of that was holding a 5×5 program (here at Grand Valley)– a competition that would encourage faculty in conjunction with community partners to propose an idea, project or research.

Stay tuned for updates on GVSU’s progress in Pathways to Innovation. For more information on Venture Well, please visit https://venturewell.org/. 

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