Changing the world is no small feat, but a network at UNC-Chapel Hill is encouraging students to do just that by imbuing them with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Speaking in her capacity as vice chancellor for innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development, Judith Cone explained the premise of that network.

“We feel very strongly that it’s important that we not only do basic research and teaching, but that we convert as many ideas as we can into practical benefit for the good of people in North Carolina and around the world,” she stated.

Innovate Carolina was formed in 2010 to facilitate the transmission of those ideas and benefits to people and places outside of sequestered academic communities.

According to Cone, the network has nodes and benefactors at each of the 17 college campuses that comprise the University of North Carolina education system.

“We have an Innovate Carolina network that represents every school and unit across the university,” she relayed. “More than 200 people, just people on our campus belong to that network — they all care about the innovation mindset and skill set and how you convert ideas into practical value.”

In an era where seemingly trivial ideas like online picture sharing have the potential to beget billion-dollar businesses, Innovate Carolina is on stable footing.

Cone affirmed that the network gives students ample opportunities to acquire and practice the skills of entrepreneurship while taking their own ideas to the next level.

“We want them to know how to do that,” she noted. “Whether they are public officials or teachers or lawyers or public health officials or doctors or entrepreneurs, we think that’s a great skill for them, to make them more competitive and have another skill that will do them well in their careers.”

Those opportunities have been beneficial to both network participants and companies seeking to boost their human capital by hiring fresh, future-minded talent.

Figures from a progress report cited by Cone indicate that the network has collaborated with over 60 companies to help create more than 1,000 jobs.

“In taking that snapshot of 2015, the companies in that database had hired 8,449 employees in North Carolina — that was the number of employees that year,” she cited. “That’s a lot of people, and the revenue was in the billions.”

Cone also noted that the prospect of parlaying entrepreneurial skills into high-demand careers has not been lost on students, who have taken to the network readily.

“This generation understands this value proposition, this opportunity; they’ve grown up in the era of the entrepreneurial stories that affect their lives,” she claimed. “They really want that opportunity, and our programs for undergraduates fill up very quickly.”

Over 400 companies were created with the help of the UNC education system between 1958 and 2017, including Fortune 500 biopharmaceutical giant QuintilesIMS.

Photo by Innovate Carolina/UNC.