Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The REAL hero of "Students Are Our Secret Weapon"!

All too quietly a landmark was passed in Idaho. Nancy Bergmann, INL's Wonder Woman of economic development formally retired. Some of you know just how much she mattered to Idaho, the rest of you in Idaho need to find out. In fact, I am convinced that we need to do much more to honor Nancy. Anyone else in?

For those of you outside of Idaho - PLEASE go find your own local "Nancy Bergmann" and... appreciate them. Ask how you can help.

Some of the best things that has ever happened in Idaho to make Idaho more entrepreneurial could not have happened without her. I refuse to take credit for any of what I did without invoking her name. When someone in another state or country yells at me "Students ARE Our Secret Weapon", I remember how she championed my students to greatness.

If you know her (or not) send her a note ASAP. Nobody did more to grow jobs in Idaho; nobody did it more graciously.  nb-woa@hotmail.com 

I know that I owe her more than words can convey. So much so that as I drove over to the lovely retirement party INL threw for her, I was actually nervous over what I'd say, if asked to share my thoughts and feelings. Here's what I would've said (assuming that I didn't get too choked up, a definite possibility).


"Dear Nancy,

If there is one thing to say about our collaborations, it is this:

    'We Were Ahead of the Curve!' and... People. Remember.

Last fall I visited Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. They have the most amazing program using students to turn local technologies into viable businesses (check out their School of Entrepreneurship and their Encubator). As they were ramping up they noticed what we were doing in Idaho. I'd like to think that we gave them
bona fide evidence that students really can be deployed effectively to turn ideas into reality.

There are no more than 15-20 universities able to pull this off. [http://www.vcplist.com] Nancy, back when we got TRAILS/TEAMS rolling, that list would have been half as long.. but WE would've been on it.

Nancy, I know that you would rather not grieve about what might have been and instead celebrate. So, let's... celebrate!

My friend and great economist David Audretsch argues that despite all the seeming bad news, this IS the Century of the Entrepreneur. In recent years, the number of schools on that list? It has grown and the things they're doing have grown even more.  I really wish that we would have been allowed to stay the course. But even if it isn't in Idaho....the torch is still burning.

    TRAILS/TEAMS proved that:
* Entrepreneurial learning is deep transformative learning.
* That "hands on" is not nearly enough. You need the right processes and the right people.
* Genuinely experiential learning will help people closer to the expert entrepreneurial mindset
* AND the right processes just happen to be the #1 best way to help turn Ideas Into Reality.

    The best and brightest in the entrepreneurship education world now know:
* What that usually-undefined "entrepreneurial mindset" really is
* And how to get there. How to get there effectively and joyously.
* And the clear policy implications for growing a great entrepreneurial ecosystem.

    The evidence?
* Problem-based learning is on the rise. It's 95%+ outside 4-year schools [think Startup Weekend, the lean startup model, etc.]
* The best programs put the entrepreneurs and the learners first - TRUE immersion
* The best entrepreneurial programs now focus on mindset and ecosystem.
* Empirical evidence overwhelmingly shows the keys are growing human capital and social capital
    (Removing barriers helps, of course.)
TRAILS/TEAMS showed all of this - but we could not have done it without your ideas and energy!

[for those of you who have no idea what TRAILS and TEAMS program was about, here's the back story. A problem-based learning project that partnered INL, my Boise State classes, the economic development community and an assortment of Idaho's great entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. Student teams would identify, plan and execute projects that made a difference. Helping potential gazelles, helping economic development projects, helping social venture and most fun of all, help technology commercialization! [more here, here]

Serious funding from the Kauffman Foundation. Three national best practice awards, including NGA, SBA and Kauffman [http://bitly.com/d3FzcW] Honors for INL from DOE. Great student learning. A better Idaho.]

    Nancy, be very proud.
    INL, be very proud.


To further embarrass Nancy: Back in our heyday, a few of us conspired to nominate Nancy for one of EDA's National Awards. Some of you wrote totally brilliant letters. After submitting, I got a call from a higher-up at EDA. who said "You know that we never consider individuals for this award, yes?" I stammered something like "I know but Nancy so deserves it." He replied, "I agree. It will be taken very seriously. Can't win, probably, but after reading it, I assure you it will be a finalist." Those of you who know Nancy B are nodding your head and smiling, aren't you?

In the last year, I've had national-level officials from DOE, NSF and EDA all ask when we are going to re-boot TEAMS. (In one case, let's say the officials was less than polite in his language, LOL.) EDA
was actually willing, it seems, to help us reboot- we had full funding lined up from another group. The biggest obstacle to funding the next version isn't the funding so much as much higher the bar has been raised by Chalmers' School of Entrepreneurship, Utah's Foundry, the Danish Entrepreneurship Foundation, Aalto plus long-time role models at Stanford and Babson. Definitely grounds for us to celebrate!

Nancy,if  we weren't ahead of the curve, we were surfing near the front of the wave. You should be VERY proud. INL too should be very proud of their support (without Chris Hertz, Tom Harrison and the tireless Ray Barnes, who constantly challenged us to go to the next level. Thank you all. I never say that enough.

    Ideas into Reality: The "ABC's" of Tech Commercialization?
Maybe TEAMS died an untimely death but, Nancy, it did play a part in advancing The Cause, that the answers are indeed Entrepreneurial! Research has advanced. Pedagogy has advanced. Turning university/lab research into reality has advanced.

What our students did gave us new insights. Nancy, we kicked a few pebbles down the hill and today the avalanche is starting to grow. The steps were small but we can celebrate how right we were. Rather... How right YOU were, Nancy.

I am honored, blessed and humbled to know you. Thank you.

p.s. and knowing Nancy, she would INSIST that I also thank all of you who have helped the world move toward a more entrepreneurial society. I am honored, blessed and humbled to know you as well.
"

N.B.: Again, her email address still works - send her a note ASAP. Nobody did more to grow jobs in Idaho; nobody did it more graciously.  nb-woa@hotmail.com 

Have you emailed her yet? ;)

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Cheryl Lucia said...

It's very refreshing to read your post on the young minds at Chalmers University of Technology. We do,however,need an overhaul in the academic criteria in the business schools. Our young people are being taught disciplines dictated by the financial institutions at some of the most prestigious universities. Take Larry Summers and Harvard no less. Persistent loosening on the ties of deregulation has led to basically a free ticket to do as you please in the financial sector has gotten us where we are today. We need to guide our young minds to be able to foresee and handle an economic crisis, not create one.

4:59 AM  
Blogger DrOptimism said...

Thanks, Cheryl - it's an uphill battle to keep (and nourish) the entrepreneurial mindset in any population.

9:49 PM  

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