Gregory P. Crawford is the William K. Warren Foundation Dean of the College of Science and a Professor of Physics at the University of Notre Dame.
The graduation of this year’s ESTEEM class will mark the fifth anniversary of the Engineering, Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters Program. ESTEEM developed as a collaboration among the Deans of the College of Science, the College of Engineering, and the Mendoza College of Business. The program has had a direct impact on 120 students that it has equipped to be leading-edge entrepreneurs. It has also had a significant impact on the accelerating entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University of Notre Dame.
ESTEEM’s capstone thesis project involves developing a business plan for a discovery or invention by a Notre Dame faculty member. Many of them work in collaboration with faculty, students, and staff across campus, including different colleges, the Office of Technology Transfer, and the Harper Cancer Research Institute. So far, more than 75 faculty members from the Colleges of Science and Engineering have participated in these projects with students. Another 11 faculty from those Colleges and the Mendoza College of Business teach in the program, and many Notre Dame alums and others have presented guest lectures.
In addition to science and engineering graduates from Notre Dame, ESTEEM has attracted students from such top universities as Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and the U.S. Naval Academy. One-fourth of the participants have come from other countries, and valuable collaborations have been established with supporters and industries.
ESTEEM students have demonstrated their expertise in business plan and case competitions on campus and beyond. Last year’s winner and runner-up in the McCloskey Business Plan Competition at Notre Dame were ESTEEM teams, and four ESTEEM students were on the team that won the Social Impact Prize. Others have been involved in such prestigious events as the Rice Business Plan Competition, the National Cardinal Challenge, the Arch Grants Competition in St. Louis, the Microsoft Imagine Cup, and the ATT Case Competition.
Already, three capstone thesis projects have been developed into startup businesses, commercializing Notre Dame research in civil engineering, biology, and computer science, including two housed at Innovation Park. Even outside of class, ESTEEM students are so innovative that several other companies have started based on their ideas that weren’t used in their projects.
The presence of these creative, energetic students has had a tremendous impact on the campus and the community. ESTEEM students plan, organize, and run an annual Startup Weekend, part of Google’s nationally-recognized initiative, that attracts more than 100 people and dozens of fresh business ideas. They also advise the Four Horsemen Society on entrepreneurship, especially the advancement of science and technology. ESTEEM will offer the entrepreneurship/innovation curriculum piece for the African Youth Initiative Program, a six-week summer program on campus for 25 students this year, funded by the State Department. Seven ESTEEM graduates in 2012 initiated the ongoing enFocus Program that provides internships with local government and businesses to develop innovative technologies and promote “brain gain.”
It’s been an exciting five years, and it’s only going to get better. We expect eventually to have at least 30 to 40 ESTEEM students on campus, and we plan to launch an ESTEEM Chicago program next year. Entrepreneurship and innovation will lead the way in the future, and ESTEEM will continue to lead the way in entrepreneurship and innovation.