7 Questions with the Polsky Center
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation bridges the gap between knowledge and practice, idea and action, and research and impact through education, partnerships, and new venture creation.
We recently sat down with the team from Polsky to ask a few questions.
What differentiates how the Polsky Center approaches entrepreneurship and venture creation?
First of all, everything the Polsky Center offers and teaches is rooted in the dedication to rigorous inquiry that defines the entire University of Chicago identity and community. All students, faculty, staff, and members of the greater UChicago community that engage with the Polsky Center are encouraged to constantly learn and grow through ceaseless questioning and challenging of the status quo. Secondly, Polsky is a distinctively cross-disciplinary resource. The most important asset we offer each of our different constituents is our ability to connect individuals from varied backgrounds and expertise. We introduce business students with scientists, community members with startups, and faculty with industry leaders. All in all, the Polsky Center’s approach is inherently differentiated through our mission to make a lasting impact on the world.
Why is entrepreneurship the #1 concentration at Booth?
Aside from the incredible academic and industry expertise Booth’s entrepreneurship professors bring to each of their courses, we believe that entrepreneurship has consistently been the top concentration at Booth because of the vast range of skills it teaches and instills in our students. Entrepreneurship is more than just learning how to launch a new venture; it’s an entire mindset of innovation, creativity, and calculated risk. And Booth students have become increasingly aware of how those traits will help them become successful in their careers, regardless of their aspirations or career trajectories. An entrepreneurial education is valuable for everyone—from corporate managers to venture capitalists to early-stage entrepreneurs and everyone in between.
What resources and programming does the Polsky Center offer?
As a whole, the most important resource that the Polsky Center offers is our people. We are your entrepreneurial guides through the startup journey, no matter what stage of the process you are in. Our staff, faculty advisors, Investors-in-Residence, and Entrepreneurs-in-Residence provide invaluable assistance and mentorship. For faculty, the Polsky Center runs all of the University’s tech transfer operations. We help all UChicago innovators commercialize their research and inventions—either through founding a startup of their own or licensing their research to other companies. Additionally for UChicago students, we provide a wide range of experiential education through hands-on and classroom-based training in different facets of customer discovery, private equity, venture capital, and search funds. And for our current students, alums, and even members of the wider Chicago community, the Polsky Center offers a variety of accelerator programs, internship opportunities, coworking space, workshops, mentoring, monetary awards, stipends, and more.
What kind of new businesses are coming out of Chicago Booth?
One of the best parts about the Polsky Center is that we are 100% industry agnostic. We support all faculty, students, staff, and community members with every imaginable kind of business. From foodtech to fintech, life science to computer science, CPG to B2B—we see it all. Recently, we’ve witnessed an upward trend in startups and research that utilize or manipulate the microbiome. Two examples are ClostraBio, a startup built on research from UChicago professors Cathy Nagler and Jeffrey Hubbell working to find a cure for food allergies, and Oxalo Therapeutics, a startup developing a cure for kidney stones and other rare renal diseases based on research from professor Hatim Hassan. Additionally, we’ve seen a huge uptick in startups in the food space. We’ve had three different ice cream companies participate in the New Venture Challenge and the College New Venture Challenge in the last two years, and one of our most successful companies to come out of the NVC in the last five years is all-natural, paleo-friendly and gluten-free food company Simple Mills.
What are some of the hands-on opportunities for students and why is that an advantage?
Some of the most popular and competitive programs offered by the Polsky Center blend classroom learning with hands-on experience. The Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, the Polsky I-Corps program, and the Private Equity and Venture Capital Lab are all terrific examples of some of our most successful experiential education programming. They provide students the comfort of classroom learning combined with the invaluable education that comes from getting out and doing the work themselves. Whether our students are learning the ins and outs of launching a startup, how to talk to customers and determine market need, or getting their first taste of what it’s like to work at a venture capital fund or private equity firm, our programs provide exceptional opportunity and often a very valuable foot in the door.
Why is Chicago a vital city for entrepreneurship and a thriving incubator hub for the US?
Chicago’s aptitude for entrepreneurship and innovation is deeply rooted in a long history of invention. From the birth of the skyscraper in 1884 to the World’s Columbian Exposition held in 1893 to the first ever nuclear reaction in 1942, Chicago is home to a long list of world-changing discoveries, revolutions, and important advancements in business. Most recently, a growing series of incredibly successful startup exits has resulted in Chicago boasting the highest number of 10x+ returns for investors of any city across the country. This, in combination with a lower cost of operation compared to innovation hubs on the coasts, as well as an abundance of young talent attracted by two of the nation’s leading research universities, has led to a massive reinvigoration of Chicago’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem.
How does the Polsky Center support entrepreneurs even after graduation?
We always tell our students, we are a resource for life. The Polsky Center works hard to stay connected to all of our students—past and present. We offer formal programming designed specifically to accommodate alumni at various stages of their post-grad career. The Polsky Accelerator is a ten-week summer accelerator program that accepts alumni entrepreneurs within five years of graduating; the Polsky Founders’ Fund Fellowship provides funding and mentorship to recently graduated or soon-to-be-graduating students dedicated to working full-time on their startups; and the most recent addition to our alumni-programming repertoire is the Alumni New Venture Challenge (ANVC). New as of this year, the ANVC accepts any and all alumni of the University of Chicago who are launching early stage ventures. In this first year, the ANVC will launch in five regions: East Coast (NYC), Midwest (Chicago), West Coast (Bay Area), Europe (London), and Asia (Bangalore). The competition follows the same rigorous, milestone-driven structure that has proven so successful across all tracks of the existing NVC.