Yael Hochberg was trained as an industrial engineer, feels at home among engineers and engineering students, and generally shares their way of thinking—“real-world applications, practical-minded, not just theory.”
Since joining the faculty in 2013 as the Ralph S. O’Connor Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Jones Graduate School of Business, Hochberg has discovered that many of the student-entrepreneurs at Rice University are in the George R. Brown School of Engineering.
“That’s not a surprise. More and more engineers are seeing their work as valuable to people, and they want to be entrepreneurial. It doesn’t happen spontaneously. Entrepreneurship is about seeing an opportunity and going after it,” said Hochberg, who is herself a sort of entrepreneur of entrepreneurship at Rice.
She heads the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative, a cross-disciplinary program founded in 2015 to prepare students to enter a world where entrepreneurial skills have become prerequisites for a successful career. She serves as managing director of the annual Seed Accelerator Rankings Project and as academic director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. The latter hosts the world’s most lucrative student startup competition, the Rice Business Plan Competition.
She’s also an associate professor of finance and entrepreneurship at Rice, and in her spare time serves as a research affiliate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. In effect, Hochberg straddles disciplines, schools, departments and universities, and works closely with the Rice Center for Engineering Leadership, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and the Doerr Institute for New Leaders.
Now that the Rice Faculty Senate has approved creation of engineering design as an academic minor, Hochberg said, “I would like to see us put in place a minor in entrepreneurship, while keeping it discipline-based. If a student is majoring in chemical engineering, or any skill with standards, it would be a way to additionally prepare those students for the business world. It should be a complement to their major, a way to apply it to the market,” Hochberg said.
Though closely aligned with engineers, Hochberg’s mandate is university-wide. The Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative draws students from schools and departments across campus. Her goal is creation of a campus-wide collection of curricular and co-curricular activities designed to prepare Rice students for the process of entrepreneurship—everything from starting a company to hiring employees and managing finances.
“We want to integrate all of these disparate resources. I’d like to attract a group of world-class experts on entrepreneurship, five or six of them, and form a real brain trust to teach and do real research on the subject,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation awarded Hochberg a five-year, $1.5 million grant to study the effects of entrepreneurship education on entrepreneurial success. The five-year project will work with leading startup support organizations in the United States to track the outcomes of a group of startups receiving a free, concentrated entrepreneurship curriculum.
“We need this kind of information. It has taken design a long time to become part of the regular curriculum. It will take time for the same thing to happen with entrepreneurship,” she said.
–Patrick Kurp, Engineering Communications