This week we continue our series highlighting educators within the VentureWell network that are doing good work—faculty members that are challenging norms in higher education and inspiring students to impact the world through invention.
This month’s faculty spotlight is Jed Taylor, Director of Operations of Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC) in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Taylor is a national faculty member for the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps™ program, and is part of the leadership team for the I-Corps Midwest node. He also received a VentureWell Faculty Grant to help launch an Innovation Certificate at The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry).
How did you get interested in teaching entrepreneurship?
I was involved as a mentor in one of the early I-Corps cohorts. I believe that we were team #18 (Phi Optics). A year later, I participated as a mentor for team #147 (OceanComm). The I-Corps program taught me how important and impactful the customer discovery process is for early-stage teams. From this experience, I was involved with putting together an I-Corps Site proposal for NSF, and incorporated the lessons learned into several of our university courses and programs.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
It’s exciting to see teams improve and become successful as a result of our programs. Several I-Corps teams have gone on to raise several million [dollars] in venture capital funds. We also had teams discover that they had more work to do and it was not the right time to launch.
Where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years?
I would like to see entrepreneurial education incorporated more into traditional fields such as engineering. We recently launched a new bachelor’s degree in Innovation, Leadership, and Engineering Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This new degree is offered as a dual degree to engineering students.
Two years ago we launched the Faculty Entrepreneurial Fellows program where students work closely with faculty entrepreneurs to explore commercializing university research and get credit for the experience. In the future, I would like to see more of these types of programs where students get hands-on experience and earn credit while flexing their entrepreneurial muscles.
What traits make for great teachers, advisors, and mentors?
Patience and the ability to listen. Often I see many instructors have their version of a methodology that they will upon students. They forget to listen to those that they are trying to help.
What books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately?
I recently read Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose by Tony Hsieh. On a recent Silicon Valley trek with students, many of the entrepreneurs we met with spoke about putting customers first and mentioned Tony Hsieh’s book. It’s an easy read, and one can learn a great deal from how Zappos was built. After reading the book I immediately bought a pair of shoes from Zappos. I have to admit that I was pretty impressed — and happy.
What’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment?
There is a simple business thesis exercise that we use in our I-Corps program that teaches teams to articulate their value proposition and customer segment in a concise way. It sounds simple, but it always amazes me how challenging it is for students to do at first. I even crack out this exercise every time that I give a guest lecture across campus.