Stephen Miller brings a lot of experience in the entrepreneurial and startup world as he becomes the first senior director of entrepreneurship for the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.
Miller, 47, is the former president and CEO of CleanLaunch, Colorado’s clean-tech incubator and part of the Colorado Center for Renewable Energy and Economic Development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. He also was co-founder of the Cleantech Open-Rocky Mountain, a renewable-energy, business-plan competition.
He also served as executive director of Denver Ventures at Stapleton (CTEK Stapleton), a business incubator for early-stage companies. He currently serves on the boards of the Rocky Mountain Business Incubator Coalition and Colorado Energy Coalition, among others.
Miller also worked in economic development with the former Southeast Business Partnership.
Overall, he’s worked with such clients as Forest City Stapleton, the City of Lone Tree and Skyridge Medical Center, among others.
The Denver Business Journal spoke with Miller about how he plans to foster entrepreneurship and curriculum development in this new position and about some of his past accomplishments.
Q: Why is this the right time for Daniels College of Business to add a director of entrepreneurship?
A: For a variety of reasons. We’re finding in the undergraduate, graduate and executive MBA programs, there’s more interest in entrepreneurship than there’s ever been. I’ve found that entrepreneurship thrives in down economic times because the big companies aren’t hiring, so people are forced to pursue their own opportunities. I also think, especially for young people, the evolution of social media provides a lot more exposure to entrepreneurship and the outcome of entrepreneurial efforts to them.
Q: How do you plan to build key partnerships and relationships in the entrepreneurial community?
A: One of the reasons I was brought in was my background and history. I’m coming in with relationships with a broad range of angel investors and venture capitalists here, and perhaps more importantly, outside of Colorado. … So much of our VC comes from outside the metro Denver area.
A key part of our outreach is working with all the incubators throughout the region. And of course, connecting with business as well. We always think of entrepreneurship as being stand-alone scientists or software developers, sitting in a basement or a bedroom, coming up with the next big thing. The reality is that some of our innovators come out of an existing business, either via layoffs or by pursuing an interest.
Some people in their business worlds aren’t given the opportunity to innovate. We see people at DU pursuing educational opportunities while still being employed. Entrepreneurism sometimes is fostered within the workplace, and if not, we’re happy to help out as well.
Q: How will you work with the faculty and staff to enhance the overall entrepreneurial curriculum?
A: My responsibility is to co-develop curriculum both with existing faculty and a new faculty member we’re in the process of hiring, in the Koch Endowed Chair [named for Walter K. Koch, this position will begin in the fall]. We’ll have a professor who’s in charge of entrepreneurism, who will be my evil twin. I’m more adjunct faculty. I may spend some time in the classroom, at the election of our faculty here.
We have faculty who have done some very entrepreneurial things; we do have some classwork already in place. Over the next year, we’ll put together a more comprehensive entrepreneurial curriculum for the new faculty member and with the existing faculty, something a little more comprehensive. Our intent is that students could cross-enroll across all the different schools of the university.
We expect in the long run to have both an undergraduate component as well as a graduate component. We’re considering whether we want to do a major in entrepreneurism, or a concentration or a certificate program.
We’re pulling ideas from some of the country’s best programs, such as Rice University and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. There are some great entrepreneurial programs around the country, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but instead find what’s the right offering for our students.
Q: Tell us about your plans to design and launch new entrepreneurship activities.
A: There’s clubs and organizations among the student body. One of the things I’ll be doing is further connecting them with the entrepreneurial community throughout the region. That’ll be one component. Another is demonstrated by our faculty and their innovative nature.Steve Haag has a new class called “Gateway to Business”; freshmen students in this class form a mobile app, build a prototype and compete for funding.