Associate Dean/ESTEEM Director Delivers Hesburgh Lecture in Silicon Valley

Author: Gene Stowe

David Murphy Picture

In his 2015 Hesburgh Lecture on October 20th at the new Levi's Stadium in San Francisco, David Murphy, Associate Dean of Entrepreneurship for the Colleges of Science and Engineering, highlighted several strategic developments at Notre Dame that have helped to advance the development of a deep and robust ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship at Our Lady's University.  Nearly 300 people attended the networking event and lecture sponsored by the Notre Dame Club of San Jose and Notre Dame California.   Murphy was introduced by former Dean of Science and current Vice President and Associate Provost, Greg Crawford, following Crawford's comments outlining key strategic goals for Notre Dame California.  

Murphy's talk, "The Evolving Ecosystem For Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame," focused on the tremendous increase in research spending at the University (up 143% in the last decade to an annual level of $180M in FY 2015) and how the effort to commercialize more and more of this research is leading to more innovation and entrepreneurial activity.  Invention disclosures, patents issued, active licenses, licenses to start-ups and licensing income are all trending up.  

"We cannot fulfill our mission to be a preeminent research university, to be that powerful force for good in the world envisioned by Father Sorin, without finding more ways to commercialize this research, to bring great new ideas to the marketplace for the Common Good," said Murphy.

The university in recent years has created several one-year Professional Master's Programs to help advance the mission through the Academy -- one of these being the ESTEEM Graduate Program.  The ESTEEM Program is the first multi-disciplinary graduate program in the history of Notre Dame, formed in 2009 by the Colleges of Engineering, Science and Business.  Murphy, who also serves as the Director of the ESTEEM Program, provided an overview of how this program is constructed, how it is attracting top students from all over the globe and how it is positioning itself as a leading graduate program in innovation and entrepreneurship, most notably through its unique and compelling capstone thesis opportunity. 

ESTEEM capstone thesis projects provide a real world "sandbox" in which graduate students can research, build, prototype, fail, validate, pivot, and ultimately develop a go-to-market commercialization plan for leading Notre Dame research faculty, sponsoring companies from a wide variety of industries, or for themselves (founders' ideas).  "They learn very quickly that innovation and any kind of start-up activity is messy and that even the best ideas often fail in one application or market only to succeed and prosper in another -- and what better way to learn these powerful lessons than by engaging in real opportunities, to learn by doing" said Murphy.  

Murphy noted, in particular, the tremendous increase in industry sponsored capstone thesis opportunities in the ESTEEM Program, going from zero in the first four years of the Program (all were coming from ND research) to seven last year and 21 in the current cohort of 39 students.  These industry sponsors are global and include multi-billion dollar companies spanning multiple industries (pharma, advanced manufacturing, etc.) to start-ups and early stage companies in biotech, cloud computing, fintech, an orthopedic spin-out from the Cleveland Clinic and even projects from spin-out companies tied to other universities.  

"Adding these projects has been a game-changer for ESTEEM," Murphy said, because they critically enhance the student learning experience, help develop industry-faculty relationships, and provide sponsorship fee income that has helped to quadruple scholarship funding over the past 3-4 years.  One such thesis project that Murphy highlighted was CupPrint, a five year old/late stage start-up company out of Ireland whose thesis project involves the students having to start up a U.S. based operation in South Bend by the time they graduate.  Space will be secured by November; machinery is being shipped in from Ireland by January; 20+ new jobs will be created and full production for the manufacturing of printed cups will begin -- all by the time the students are defending this thesis opportunity in April of 2016.  

Murphy also noted how ESTEEM has served in a catalytic and collaborative role in helping to advance the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship at Notre Dame and in the greater community; specifically:  

  • Co-founding enFocus, a non-profit paid fellowship program in South Bend that is proving to be a very successful at retaining top young STEM talent ("Brain Gain") in community and providing a new paradigm for economic and community development through innovation and entrepreneurship 
  • Serving as the academic foundation for the Irish Innovation Fund, a $3.5M Fund for student/faculty led start-ups at Notre Dame
  • Through enFocus and its close relationships with the City of South Bend, and in particular with the City's new Office for Innovation, helping Notre Dame and South Bend become part of the Metro Lab Network, a White House Initiative linking leading research universities with their "home cities" to advance Smart Cities technology deployment and address critical community needs (Notre Dame/South Bend is one of 22 announced university/city partnerships nationally and is assuming a vital leadership role as one of seven university/city partners leading this effort on the National Steering Committee)

Murphy closed his talk with a focus on Notre Dame California and how the ESTEEM Graduate Program, along with other academic programming, will be a key component of what Notre Dame can bring to Silicon Valley.  ESTEEM is part of this critical conversation and a strategic planning process is underway to determine the optimal approach, construct and timing of what can be delivered in California.  Murphy will be looking to secure corporate sponsored capstone thesis projects from SV-based companies between now and June of 2016.  

Following Murphy's talk, there was a panel discussion involving Dana Mead, a partner with Kleiner Perkins (Venture Capital), Mark Foley (Notre Dame graduate and CEO of Zeltiq) and Maribeth Rauh, a 2015 Notre Dame graduate working for Google.  With Greg and David serving as moderators, the discussion centered on what trends we are currently seeing in the Silicon Valley start-up world; what kind of talent the leading tech companies are seeking; how Notre Dame talent stacks up against the very best competition; what kinds of opportunities are out there for Notre Dame students (internships) and young graduates; and how best to secure those opportunities -- especially now with the California Initiative underway.