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The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is one of five finalists in a global competition to recognize excellence and achievement in higher education entrepreneurship efforts.
The CIE is a finalist for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Team of the Year in the Triple E Awards, which focus on university programs that involve and benefit students and the local community.
The awards are sponsored by the Accreditation Council for Entrepreneurial and Engaged Universities in Germany.
Twenty-four finalists were chosen in the global awards category. The UTC program is facing teams from Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria, the London School of Economics and Political Science in England and the University of the South Pacific in Fiji.
“Even being finalists, I can feel like we’ve already won in some sense because this is international recognition. We now have some international credibility,” said Thomas Lyons, Clarence E. Harris chair of excellence in entrepreneurship, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship in the Gary W. Rollins College of Business and a member of the CIE team.
Other team members are Commercialization Coordinator Jennifer Skjellum, Entrepreneur-in-Residence Mike Bradshaw and former CIE Director Libby Santin, who left UTC in January to start her own consulting business.
Winners of the Triple E Awards will be announced during ceremonies June 26-29 in Barcelona, Spain.
Being at a smaller university probably was a plus when it came to capturing the attention of the awards selection committee, Lyons said.
“You’ve got to figure that there are a lot of programs that are at bigger universities, research universities,” he said. “We’ve really been able to accomplish a lot in terms of our programming and our initiatives.”
One criterion for an award is a university’s entrepreneurship efforts both on-campus and off, he said, and the CIE has an excellent track record in both.
“We have been very intentional in terms of meeting our mandate to spread entrepreneurship across the UTC campus,” Lyons said. “We have a minor that any major on campus can take. We have a gen-ed course which any student coming into UTC and wanting gen-ed credits can take. So we’re exposing a lot of students to entrepreneurship that way.”
The center also has its Hatch It! Lab, which is filled with equipment such as 3D printers, sewing machines, laser cutters and other hands-on equipment that are “available to anyone on campus—student, staff and faculty,” Lyons said.
The second requirement for award finalists is actively promoting and supporting entrepreneurship in their local community.
“We’ve really worked hard on that part of it, and we continue to build that out,” Lyons said.
He specifically mentioned the center’s commercialization program, which helps faculty take their research ideas and perhaps turn them into money-making ventures. In 2020, Jennifer Skjellum was hired as the first commercialization counselor at UTC to help that effort.
The program was started after he had conversations with local business and community leaders, Lyons said.
“I asked every one of them one question: ‘What are we currently not doing at UTC in entrepreneurship that you would like to see us do?’ The most common response was, ‘Well, you need to figure out a way to engage your researchers more with the community.’
“It’s a kind of a give-before-you-get mentality. We’re giving to the community and we hope, in return, they’ll invest in us as well.”
Global Award of the Year categories
- Engaged University
- Green University
- Innovation Ecosystem
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship Team
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship Team (Rising Star)