IDDS – Technology, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in an Academic Environment

In the context of the International Development Design Summit 2009 at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, yesterday (30 July) there was a public lecture on how a university can promote entrepreneurship of their students and faculty members by Paul Hudnut from Colorado State UniversityTechnology, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in an Academic Environment. It was quite interesting to see the “university start up” issue from another side.

Here some notes of the lecture.


Amy Smith – founder of IDDS

A lot of participants of IDDS are here – but others may not know what IDDS is:
IDDS is about innovation – bringing together people from different backgrounds & countries to be creative and innovative and design things
These things should improve the lives of people who live on 1-2$ a day
Everyone should be included in the process – also the people in the villages – the concept of co-creation to create new technologies
Working with villagers to identify technologies which might make a difference and share ideas
In 3 days the project teams will go back to the villages with prototypes and refine them


  • collaboration
  • people should become aware that they themselves created this solution
  • improving creativity and problem-solving capacity beneath people

Paul Hudnut has been with IDDS for te past 2 weeks sharing insights into entrepreneurship

  • how can you transform a prototype to a product
  • thinking about the design process
  • experiences in integrated academia and entrepreneurship
  • founding member of Envirofit – doing wonderful work and has received a lot of recognition

Evo Koufou – professor at KNUST
Introducing Paul Hudnut


Paul Hudnut

Quote from Obama’s speech when he was in Ghana: Africa doesn’t need strongmen but strong institutions -> applies especially to universities
society puts it’s trust in the job of faculties and students – training the next generations to be ready for the problems the current generation hasn’t solved
what is the university role in todays world?
how can universitys mission to teach, research and service

  • develop useful technology
  • foster entrepreneurship

in this speech economic development examples from Colorado State University will be provided:

  • how to deal with research and intellectual property
  • 2 company examples

some experiences what US universities have done to support technology enrepreneurship- maybe helps KNUST

definition entrepreneur: a revolutionary with a business model

Colorado State University:

  • 25 000 students
  • duties: research, teaching, service to the community
  • Colorado state economy based on agriculture, tourism, high tech
  • school: innovation programs in engineering and business schools


  • research university
  • $300m annual budget, 80% from US agencies
  • all inventions in the university belong to the university
  • super-clusters – concentrated research on: infectious diseases, cancer, renewable energy
  • CSU research foundation: provides technology transfer services & invests in start up companies


  • university needs to be partner in innovation process with business (there’s things universities do well, others they don’t do well)
  • research funding is a larger more certain revenue than licensing
  • bias towards economic development over university compensation – start ups are more important
  • bulk of inventions come from small % of faculty (80/20)


US Academic innovation:

  • development: science & industrialization -> computing, communication, life sciences -> networks and systems (energy, environment, health)
  • innovation now has the need not only for technology, but also for a business model

Innovation sources (various scholars):

  • innovation happens with hard work – not genius
  • disruptive (new world-view) vs. sustaining innovations (holding on to an old model)
  • innovations happen throught networks
  • intersections of cultures and disciplines

University paths: publish or patents?

  • intellectual property vs. open source
  • existing vs. new company

Stories about the 2 companies:

  • university set up a new company with new invention
  • university set up new company with new business model for old technology

Story 1 – Solix:

  • biodiesel from algae
  • formed at CSU in 2006
  • new bioreactor patents
  • university initial owner (5%), subsequent investments have been private
  • $17m venture funding
  • now: 60 employees

Algae can create fuel very efficiently, very few water is used to create the oil

  • creating animal feed, energy, biodiesel

July 2009 production began

  • 3000 gallons fuel/acre


Story 2 – Envirofit:
more innovation context  – design for the other 90%

  • large scale problems
  • solutions need to be regionally adapted and scaled
  • urgency

different types of problems need different types of innovation

  • innovation shift from pure technology to business models
  • people in the villages should be able to create the technology
  • companies may find way to disseminate stuff inexpensively
  • move towards open source & business models

Problem attacked- air pollution:

  • sources: transportation, cooking, industry, fire
  • kills millions of people
  • health effect on mothers and children
  • fixing air pollution may have a large impact
  • every month there is a “preventable tsunami”


  • motor cycles produce like 5 times more pollution than cars
  • people cook with open fire
  • around the world biomass is not very much used – Africa & Southeast Asia have the highest dependence, also high death rates connected to that

household energy:

  • 1/2 of the world’s population cooks with biomass cook stoves

Business model:

  • what cook stove would the user want?


  • started in 2003
  • funders: faculty & grad students

validating technology:

  • number of student projects looking at stove design
  • cook stove lab – fuel efficiencire, cumbustion point, …

business model:

  • customers
  • price
  • market research


  • 60 000 stoves sold in India in first year
  • requires less firewood
  • cook really well
  • less smoke
  • number of awards, now $1m in revenues
  • now 50 employees

lessons learned:

  • innovation can’t be mandated, but can be supported and facilitated
  • creative business models and modes of partnerships needed (networkin between academia, industry & stakeholders)
  • innovation may depend more on new business models than new technologies
  • university based start ups can provide learning, research revenue and publicity

what’s next for a university to promote entrepreneurship:

  • what are the institutions strengths?
  • how can these be utilized in a changeing world?
  • what are ideas or problems to start with?
  • what networks do you need to build? (academia, business, NGOs)
  • don’t wait to start, learn by doing

“The best way of learning to be an independent sovereign state is to be an independent sovereign state” – Kwame Nkrumah

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original” – Kenneth Robins

“Every institution was at one point just a handful of people in a room reciding to start something” – Paul Graham


Q & A:

Evoe Kuffou: most people don’t think of the universities as a business – what is a business model for the university?

  • academy shouldn’t be a business, but needs to encourage this type of activity and has to develop a business model for that

started manufacturing traffic lights – but there is a central financial administration and everything takes too long, how did COL do that?

  • sometimes COL does it well, sometimes not so well – grants for research, sponsoring agency;
  • maybe at the point when demand is there, a new company has to be started

can a faculty which is not tenured also jump into business?

  • difficult, some departments at COL did that but not the university as a whole; that chapter is not finished yet
  • at KNUST there is no such issue, people are just not fired here; business activities provide opportunities here

what about technology parks? have you had this idea?

  • COL doesn’t have one, other universities have, city of COL has a technology incubator, often it ends up with people having different aims and no real outcomes & it’s often hard to kill a company

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IDDS – Technology, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in an Academic Environment
was published on 31.07.2009 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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