Inside UConn’s increased focus on encouraging entrepreneurial students

Fairfield County Business Journal 4.4.22

Inside UConn’s increased focus on  encouraging entrepreneurial students

On March 30, the University of Connecticut’s Board of Trustees approved a $46 million allocation for the hiring of 10 new research, innovation and entrepreneurship faculty members. These additions to the UConn team will also be provided with new lab space and equipment to facilitate their efforts in training the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders.

According to UConn’s Interim President Radenka Maric, this focus on entrepreneurship puts the school ahead of its academic competition.

“I think it’s important because this is what the future generations want,” she explained. “We see a significant number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, who are starting companies. The

demand is shifting — they are not looking for the existing jobs anymore, but they are looking at how to create a new job and how to start new businesses.”

Maric was UConn’s vice president for research, innovation and entrepreneurship when she was tapped in February for the interim president’s role following the resignation of Andrew Agwunobi, the UConn Health CEO who served as interim president since last July after the resignation of Thomas Katsouleas.

Now that the school has the funding to hire 10 new faculty members, Maric is switching gears to a sales-and-marketing pitch to attract the right people for the just-created jobs.

“UConn is an amazing place,” she stated. “We are ranked among the top 25 universities according to “U.S. News & World Report” over the last 10 years. And our research portfolio has grown significantly in the last four years, from $180 million to $377 million. And we have an amazing infrastructure — if you come to UConn, you are going to succeed and the quality of the student is very high.” Maric also pointed out that the quantity of students is also substantial.

“This year, we had the highest application numbers in the history of the university with over 40,000,” she continued. “But if you look at where we were 10 years ago and where we are now, we’ve significantly increased the number of students in STEM fields by more than 30%.”

Maric stated that many of today’s UConn STEM-focused students are concentrating on data science and fintech solutions, but some have taken a unique approach to their science studies. One example is Raina Jain, an engineering major who won UConn’s Innovation Quest competition last year with the development of her Queen Bee health-support supplement that she created by mixing royal jelly from beehives with ginger and turmeric. Jain’s work was noticed by Whole Foods, which invited her to sell the Queen Bee supplements for the opening of its newest supermarket in Avon, Connecticut.

“Now she’s finishing the sophomore year, and she’s taking a break because she wants to grow her company,” Maric said. “And we have a number of the students who are entrepreneurs and who’ve been successful in starting businesses, selling businesses and then starting a new one.”

Maric reported that the UConn students are eager to create an East Coast equivalent of Silicon Valley that becomes an epicenter for both high-tech creativity and start-up developments. She noted the growth of UConn Stamford’s Technology Incubation Program — more commonly known as TIP Digital — as a new capital of student-driven innovation

“I believe down the road that with this culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, there will be more people who want to be part of something big,” she said.

As for herself, Maric said it was “premature to say anything” on whether UConn will transition her presidency from interim to full time, stating that a search committee needs to not only weigh the viability of candidates but also speak with a multitude of stakeholders regarding who would be the best person to steer the school ahead.

“It’s a long process, and I’m not considering it one way or the other,” she said. “I’m really thinking about how I can do the best job every day that I’m in the job.”