A Changing World at an Accelerated Pace

Today’s challenges are inextricably linked to global connectedness. Issues like offshore manufacturing, the spread of new infectious diseases, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, burgeoning population growth to more than 7 billion people worldwide, pollution and climate issues, poverty, food and water insecurity, and income inequalities are examples. These problems are the world’s, and they are all brought home to us in North Carolina.

Likewise, today’s opportunities are global in nature. The rest of the world is increasingly open to good new inventions and ideas that we develop in our state. Startup companies and social ventures launched here can attain global reach more readily than before, if they have sufficient merit and support. By excelling at this work, we can attract top innovators from around the world and thus make further strides. In short, since global became the norm, it has affected North Carolina in ways both helpful and harmful. We have chosen to take initiatives for the positive. We’ve asked ourselves: “What are the most pressing problems facing North Carolina and the world today?” and “How will the University of North Carolina best support its talented faculty, staff, students, and their research and ingenuity to help solve those problems?”

Having greater impact means embedding new methods, procedures and programs throughout the University. A broad approach has been designed to maximize the impact from three key translational methods:

Use knowledge to stimulate action

Good research is more than a possible source of IP. Often the new knowledge it provides can be applied in many ways to shape society and the economy for the better. Public health is a classic example. Today, we in North Carolina enjoy much longer average life spans and face fewer risks of debilitating diseases than our forebears did in the early or even mid- 1900s, thanks in large part to decades of public health programs and education campaigns based on new knowledge. (And UNC-Chapel Hill continues to be at the heart of such efforts, both locally and globally.)

Faculty throughout the University communicate research knowledge in ways that influence public and corporate policies, inform people’s thinking on key issues, or advance the state of practice in their fields. Through artistic and social endeavors, other faculty, students, and staff provoke new insights into human affairs.

Launch innovators into the world

Graduates armed with technical knowledge, grounded in the liberal arts and inspired to action by example are powerful ongoing contributors to impact. Carolina is preparing students to apply entrepreneurial thinking and action throughout their lives. Some will actually start new ventures, while others bring their ideas and skills to existing firms—where they are needed, to keep the state’s major industries cutting-edge—and still others inject fresh thinking into fields like education and government.

Many parties across the University have been working to identify and cultivate new qualities that students will need in order to add value in a fast-changing world. For example, the Faculty Working Group on Data Studies recommended that all students graduate data-literate, and steps are being taken to that end.

Create social and commercial enterprises

New enterprises are valuable for several reasons. Frequently they are the best means of bringing new ideas into reality. When they succeed, they become platforms for further innovation and impact, and those that grow substantially are key factors in job creation and economic prosperity.

Our goal at Carolina is not only to breed more startups of all kinds, but also to increase their chances for success and growth. This involves a host of measures across the University and beyond, because faculty members commercializing research IP, entrepreneurs launching non-IP-based companies, and social entrepreneurs each have distinct sets of needs—and the new enterprises that generate the most impact in years ahead may come from anywhere in the University community.

All told, the work of translation from idea to impact is too far-reaching to be tied to a few programs or tactics. Innovation and entrepreneurship cannot be confined to any school, department or unit on campus. Only when the innovation process is embedded into the very fabric of the University will Carolina reach its full potential as a force for good.