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How Do Academics Become Entrepreneurs?

The   Innovation Pathway    Helping academic start-ups maintain their momentum

The Innovation Pathway

Helping academic start-ups maintain their momentum


Most academics lose steam before their start-ups take shape

The University of Chicago is one of the world’s great research institutions. Despite their incredible pedigree, faculty have found commercializing research harder than winning Nobel prizes.

Emergent set out to learn how the academic setting stifles new start-ups and what can be done to bring entrepreneurship into the university setting. 


We mapped the UChicago entrepreneur’s current journey from insight to commercialization

Emergent spent 8 weeks in the offices and laboratories of 40 UChicago student and faculty start-ups. What emerged was a long and confusing journey, with more roadblocks than launch pads. Unlike academia, differentiating entrepreneurial progress from failure isn’t obvious. Founders don’t have the same feedback loops they do in their academic circles. The steps for building a start-up aren't clear. Without models to follow, best practices to emulate or protocols to reference, would-be entrepreneurs struggle to get their ideas out of the lab.


We identified the need for a practical tool designed to help academic start-ups maintain their momentum.

We saw three significant opportunities for the University to eliminate confusion and empower entrepreneurs.

1. See the big picture.

A startup is a fuzzy picture that slowly comes into focus. Even so, there is some method to the madness. We can demystify the big picture by codifying stages any start-up will progress through.

2. Know how to move forward.

For new startups, it's easy to get bogged down by the enormity of the end goal. Taking action is critical. We can tell them what milestones they should be working toward in the near term.

3. Connect to resources.

The University of Chicago has many resources, from patent protection to seed funding, to support startups. But timing is everything. We can connect them to the right resources at the right time.

These opportunities became the design framework for the Innovation Pathway. 


We teamed up with entrepreneurs and commercialization experts to design a guidebook for UChicago startups

The guidebook is used to recruit and on-board new start-ups into the UChicago incubator

The Innovation Pathway describes the 5 phases most startups follow, giving entrepreneurs a bird's-eye view of what lays ahead. Based on what phase their venture is in, the Pathway provides a punch list of important next steps that keep start-ups moving in the right direction. Each step is cross-referenced to the resources at the University and throughout Chicago that will help them develop toward their next milestone.