Academic Incubators, Part 1

“Another day, another industry disrupted by millennials.” If this is the attitude your higher education institution has toward the concept of “Academic Incubators,” we hope by the end of this two-part series we’ll have changed your minds. Simply put, an innovation center, entrepreneur complex, or other similarly named location should be a top focus for your university in the very near future.

The rise of academic incubators

Before we define what an academic incubator is, let’s talk about the underlying change that brought about a need for them. Everyone knows the working environment our college-aged sons and daughters have graduated into is significantly different than the one we came into. Baby Boomers and early Generation Xers most likely secured a well-paying job with traditional benefits, right after graduation.

Then came the Great Recession in 2008. Combined with changes in technology, millennials suddenly found that a college degree was no longer sufficient to secure a good-paying job. In fact, over 40% of them are currently in low-wage, dead-end jobs with minimal prospects.

To secure their future, many of them are turning to entrepreneurship. In fact, over a quarter of millennials are now self-employed.

In order to launch their self-starting careers, millennials began to expect more from higher education institutions. In response, universities and colleges began to develop the concept of academic incubators.

So what are they exactly?

If the word “academic” makes you picture a traditional classroom, you’re heading in the wrong direction. Rather, think of something more akin to a well-designed, open floor plan office. And just as the office needs of company A will be different than company B, so will the design and functionality of university A’s academic incubator compared to university B’s.

To put it simply, an academic incubator is a goal-oriented facility where entrepreneurs are able to connect with like-minded individuals and top recruiters with organizations and to learn from other entrepreneurs. They are modern innovation centers – flexible, adaptable, and key to your college recruiting.

Why are they key to recruiting?

It’s no secret that younger generations are incredibly loyal to brands that take care of their needs. But if an organization seems to be forcing old school mentalities onto them, they are likely to support a different entity.

To say it another way, new college students don’t see these as an option; it goes without saying that workout facilities, cafeterias, and on campus dorms are a standard part of the college experience. Likewise, academic incubators that allow college graduates to emerge into the working world better prepared and connected are now simply expected. The opportunity for a degree is no longer enough to sell an incoming freshman on why they should attend your school. In order to remain competitive with institutions that already offer academic incubators, universities will need to start planning for their next innovation center sooner rather than later.

In part two of our series, we’ll look at three tips for designing an academic incubator and two common misconceptions. We’ll also share a successful example. Interested in learning more about our work in higher education? Take a look at some of our past projects.

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