This summer, while you were likely enjoying your time off or silently cursing your boss during that 90 hour-a-week internship, you may have heard that Cornell is thinking about moving to New York City. And by moving I mean if all goes as the University hopes, Cornell would have two major campuses in the city in addition to the main campus here in Ithaca — Weill Cornell Medical College on the Upper East Side and a high-tech engineering campus on Roosevelt Island.
Here’s what happened: this past December, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg invited the world’s top engineering schools — including Cornell and Stanford — to bid on the chance to create an engineering and technology based campus in New York. He’s also offering free use of a massive block of NYC land and a cool $100 million in funding to the winner. Why is Bloomberg doing this? He wants to position New York City as a contender to high tech mecca, Silicon Valley, and he believes that the presence of a top-rated engineering school, like Cornell, can help.
For Cornell, the stakes could not be any higher. The new campus would give the University more resources, more access to talent and ideas, more opportunities for technology transfer, more business partnerships and more exposure on a national and global level. Ithaca’s great, but let’s face it — if Cornell is going to become one of the world’s leading research universities, it helps to have a major presence in one of the biggest and most recognizable cities in the world. That’s why Provost Kent Fuchs has stated that the University is “100 percent” committed to the idea, and why President David Skorton believes that Cornell is the “natural partner for NYC.”
Bloomberg’s actions and Cornell’s eager push to win the city’s bid for the project correspond with an emerging national trend: Technology and the growing numbers of startups and entrepreneurs who harness it are playing an increasingly important role in how we think about jobs, education, government, innovation and the future of our economy. At the same time, more students than ever are deciding to start companies while in school, right out of their dorm rooms.
How has this happened? After its inception in the early 90s, the Internet has slowly democratized entrepreneurship. Technology used to be about building wires, building hardware and moving electrons. It still is, but today it is more about developing interesting applications and services on the Internet, and an increasing number of college students and engineers (often at the expense of that 8:40 a.m. class) are putting more of their time and effort into doing just that.
One of the biggest myths about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs are like top athletes: They are born, not made. That’s wrong. Entrepreneurship, like anything else, is a developed skill. Research into the matter has revealed that 52 percent of successful entrepreneurs were the first in their immediate families to start a business. Examples include Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google), and Russell Simmons (Def Jam). In addition, while studies have shown that first-time entrepreneurs have a mere 18 percent chance of success, they get better with each new venture: Entrepreneurs who were successful in a previous startup have a 30 percent chance of succeeding with their next idea, and those who have previously failed have a 20 percent chance of succeeding.
With that said, entrepreneurship is not for everyone; an entrepreneur often copes with long hours, sleepless nights, a ton of uncertainty and a damn good chance of facing failure after all that. But even still, there are many students — including those at Cornell — who are developing compelling businesses despite the odds. Take Teddy Brinkofski ’13, majoring in Applied Economics and Management. In the spring of 2009, Teddy started a music-sharing website called Hulkshare, and it has since cracked the top 1,000 most-visited sites in the U.S. He did all of this right here, in Ithaca, while managing a full course load and participating in track and field.
Teddy’s decision to start his business on-campus is something that any Cornell student has the opportunity to do. Individual initiative combined with University programs like the Student Entrepreneurship Lab (“The E-Lab”) and Entrepreneurship@Cornell may give more students the opportunity to “create a job” rather than just “get” one after college.
Christopher Henty is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at email@example.com. #TheStartupBiz appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.