Explore the Report

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way that University Entrepreneurship Centers (UECs) are operating in 2020.

I surveyed 100+ UECs across the nation, asking critical questions about how they're approaching the unprecedented academic year.

Below you will be able to read a snippet of this research, including Three Primary Findings and Three Key Recommendations.

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Executive Summary

Three Primary Findings🔎

1. Everyone has gone virtual, but there was no significant change in type of UEC programming planned ... except for networking events.

Academic year program comparison: 2019/20 - 2020/21

Main Takeaways

  • The only statistically significant shift in programming (p-value = .0013) is Networking Events, with 87% of UECs running them last year and just 65% keeping them in a virtual format this year.
  • Nearly 60% of  UECs are operating completely virtually this academic year, with the rest operating on a hybrid model. No surveyed UECs selected the "All In-Person" option.
  • The most popular programs across all UECs are Pitch Competitions & Speaker Events, with 94% of UECs running them last year and 88% running them this year.

2. Programming was cut in correlation with UEC budget & longevity

Main Takeaways

  • 47 out of 108 UECs (43.52%) reported cutting programs for the 2020-21 academic year.
  • 47 out of 103 respondents to this question (45.6%) reported their UEC's budget was cut for the 2020-21 academic year. [Note: The question of whether or not their UEC's budget was cut was left optional in the survey, leading to 5 fewer responses]
  • UECs with a lower budget cut programming at a 55% rate while those with the same budget only cut programming at a 31% clip.
  • UECs with less than 10 years of operation were much more likely to cut a program (53%) than ones operating for 10+ years (36%).

3. Programming in COVID: The Good, The Bad, & The Preeminent

Main Takeaways

  • There was no clear consensus about the program most well-suited to be run virtually, though Speaker Events led the way with 23.81% of the responses.
  • 43 out of 108 UECs (40.19%) concluded that Networking Events are the most difficult to run virtually, correlating with the 87% ⇒ 65% drop in program utilization for this year.
  • Pitch Competitions are polarizing, coming in 2nd place for both the most well-suited (19%) and least well-suited (11%) program to run virtually.
  • Pitch Competitions are also  the most prominent preeminent program that UECs run by a wide margin, totaling 38.1% of responses.

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Three Key Recommendations 🗝️

Through the data received by this survey and with my conversations with UECs across the country, I feel as if I have been able to gain some real insight as to the challenges they're facing. One of the clearest takeaways is that, despite shared challenges, each of them is in a unique situation based on their budget, staff members, and longevity. I've done my best to distill it all down into some general yet actionable takeaways for anyone else in this space going forward. Below are my three key recommendations for UEC operations in the time of COVID.

Key Recommendation #1

COVID is dominating all aspects of life these days - don't shy away from programming around it. In this report, 50.93% of UECs reported that they planned programming specifically tailored to addressing the impact/fallout of COVID. The foundation of entrepreneurship - especially entrepreneurial education - is learning how to problem-solve. When one of the biggest global problems of our collective lifetime presents itself, as innovators, we should lean into that challenge.

Some examples of COVID-specific programming include virtual hackathons, contact tracing design challenges, freelance skill-building workshops,  and student consulting for small businesses affected by COVID, which brings me to my next recommendation...

Key Recommendation #2

There is a real opportunity to engage with your universities local business community during COVID. Students are still looking for hands-on entrepreneurial experience with business development. With ~70% of U.S. small businesses struggling to make ends meet, there has never been a greater need within the local business community to find innovative solutions to the crisis. This is especially true for college towns across the country which depend on a vibrant student scene in order to survive.

Most universities have some sort of official relationship with their surrounding business community - I recommend tapping into that channel in order to offer some sort of consulting or reverse-pitch competition in order to match up your innovative students with a real business who could stand to benefit from their support. Your students will appreciate the opportunity to make a tangible impact and the local business community will be thankful for any triage that you can provide for them.

Key Recommendation #3

Use this opportunity to get continual feedback from the student that you serve - what do they want to see from your program? One of my survey questions was "Did you survey your students about what programming they'd like to see during the 2020-21 academic year?" Only 27 out of 108 (a clean 25%) responded with a "Yes". That means 75% of UECs are not entirely in tune with the evolving needs of their students.

Most UECs teach customer discovery as a foundational skill for being a successful entrepreneur. After all, the biggest startup mistake is building a product/service that nobody wants. Student engagement is a huge concern for all UECs across the board, so the main way to alleviate that is to go out there and learn what type of programming they'd participate in, and then create that. Additionally, post-event feedback surveys are incredibly important in order to gauge whether or not the programs that you put on are hitting the mark with your students. This year is a chance to experiment, and its OK for experiments to fail, but you have to set up the systems to know one way or the other.

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