Teamwork, Synthesis, and Impact: Entrepreneurship, the Yale Way

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
November 14, 2014
Association of Yale Alumni Assembly 2014

When you are at a university for more than 30 years, you realize how many people you know—and that’s why I love this weekend, as I get to see so many friends. Thank you to Lise Chapman for that introduction, and for all you do for Yale. Thank you, also, to the executive officers and board members of the AYA, and to Mark Dollhopf and the AYA staff. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

Special thanks to assembly chair Darcy Pollack. While her professional obligations required a return to the West Coast today, I know she’s one of our leaders in social media—so I hope some of you will tweet your thanks to her so she can see them out in Los Angeles.

Thank you also to the dozens of entrepreneurs who shared their stories yesterday: Victor Wong and Kevin Ryan and all the speakers inspire us both in their business success and also by their commitment to Yale.

And of course thank you to everyone in this room. I am always glad to be with fellow alumni. You are Yale’s most creative and loyal volunteers. I am grateful for your generous gifts of time, talent, and treasure.

As many of you know, I have a special fondness for the AYA. Marta and I met when we were both senators in the Graduate and Professional Student Senate. We met at a senate meeting one week at the GPSCY, and our first date was at an alumni association lunch before a football game that weekend.

In my first 18 months as president, I’ve tried to stay close to alumni. In the past few months I’ve been to the sesquicentennial celebration in Cincinnati, the YaleWomen conference, the JE reunion, and the African-American Cultural Center anniversary, among other events. Marta, who served on the AYA Board of Governors, was at many of these and done others with YaleWomen in New York City and with the Yale Club of New Haven.

You inspire me both by your support for campus initiatives and by your service in communities around the world. You really are the best of Yale being the best for Yale—and for what Yale can do for our society more generally.

I could offer a detailed university update today, but I know you are some of Yale’s most plugged-in people. And we are trying to do a better job of communicating Yale news to you. You read the weekly YaleNews email newsletter every Tuesday and many of you engage with Yale on social media and subscribe to my bi-weekly Notes from Woodbridge Hall.

I know that you are up to date. You are a group that knows the state of our university is strong. You know that we are emerging from the economic downturn and have made great progress toward budget equilibrium. We closed fiscal year 2014 with a small surplus. It was a great year for fundraising and for the Yale endowment. We will, as you know, soon break ground on the two new residential colleges, opening in 2017; and while we may not have officially “broken ground,” we are moving the ground around quite a bit—and there are many other good stories to tell about current achievements and future aspirations throughout Yale.

Today, though, rather than an encyclopedic review of campus highlights, I want to focus on this assembly’s theme: entrepreneurship and innovation. This area is a priority for me. It is vital for campus and for our hometown of New Haven.

The robustness of what we are doing and the particular Yale way we are doing it are not yet fully appreciated. That’s why I am so glad you have chosen to focus on the entrepreneurial spirit at Yale. It’s very important that you go forth from this assembly and spread the word and build further momentum for entrepreneurship and innovation.

From its earliest days, Yale has celebrated innovation, a place that forges new paths to knowledge and fosters an entrepreneurial spirit among its faculty, students, and graduates. While Yale was not America’s first college, it was first to inscribe service to society into our founding legislation. At Yale we don’t just want to make new things, we want to make things better.

Yale is also a long-time innovator in activating alumni networks. Yale’s dynamic tradition of innovation for impact is expressed powerfully by the AYA’s own entrepreneurial leadership in programs like the Yale Day of Service and the Alumni Service Corps. You take seriously the words at commencement that a Yale degree confers not only rights, but also responsibilities. I am proud to be part of a university whose alumni association has become a force that calls alumni to serve society.

People are beginning to notice innovation for impact is the Yale way. An online news article recently called Yale “the ultimate training ground for innovative social entrepreneurs.” It said, “If you want to find someone who is likely to help change the world, you would do just as well to look to New Haven as Palo Alto or Silicon Valley.”

The article showcases the women of Yale as the vanguard in carrying on a longstanding Yale ethos, expressed in the words of Nathan Hale and inscribed in Branford courtyard: “I wish to be useful.” Yale alumnae have started groups like Unite for Sight, Code for America, and the Global Health Corps, to name just a few. Happily, many Yale men are social entrepreneurs, too, like Andrew Klaber who we honored today.

I’d like to also note that Yale is the eighth most represented school in jobs in the Silicon Valley, 3,000 miles away—and we do not have as large of a base of students and graduates to begin with as many other schools. To foster that, we are interdisciplinary, active across schools and departments, as we take advantage of the scope and scale of Yale.

You met yesterday at the University Theatre, for example, and the School of Drama is a very entrepreneurial school, championing the development of playwrights and their new works. You will find entrepreneurship likewise thriving at the schools of architecture, art, music, in our art museums, and in all our excellent humanities departments. Entrepreneurship here is not only in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, but also in the arts.

Innovation at Yale privileges both science and art. We are a place whose School of Medicine has a program on humanities, where medical students sharpen observation skills in art galleries, and where the director of bands works closely with scientists in the nursing school to sharpen their auditory skills. The music school dean has taught in the management school, and the divinity school pursues partnerships with poets, performing artists, and also environmentalists and medical researchers.

These connections across disparate parts of the university are characteristic of Yale and are at the heart of what it takes to be innovative. Science and art are further united in the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, one of the many interdisciplinary institutes flourishing at the West Campus. At the IPCH, art historians work next to chemists and public policy experts.                                                   

Many of you have seen the wonderful Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. It has attracted more than 2,400 members of the Yale community over the past two and a half years, with nearly 1,800 current active users—students, faculty, and research staff from across the spectrum of Yale undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.

This interdisciplinary culture you see at places like CEID and IPCH continues among alumni. Bing Gordon, former chief creative officer of Electronic Arts and now a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, reflected at the San Francisco Yale alumni entrepreneurs conference in May about the people he has known as an executive and investor in tech companies. According to Bing, “Yale people are the best synthesizers and team-builders of any selective university.”

I like to argue that success involves more than just a product. You have to be able to build a team. The liberal arts and interdisciplinary learning allow you to much more than just build the next gizmo—they allow you to build the organizations that create jobs and change society,

The growing success of Yale entrepreneurs—in Silicon Valley out west, in Silicon Alley nearby in New York City, at home in New Haven, and elsewhere—is see in organizations from Pinterest to PaperG, General Assembly to Gilt, Alexion and Prometheus Research. Yale entrepreneurs are building companies with staying power. The CEO of Alexion was in my office this morning, and he emphasizes the critical role of building teams around a vision. Teamwork and synthesis are a winning formula for impact in the private sector, just as they are in the social sector.

Some quantitative measures capture the robust quality of our entrepreneurial culture. More than 50 companies based on faculty inventions have spun out of Yale with assistance from the Office of Cooperative Research. These companies have collectively raised $5 billion in equity capital in the last 15 years. Most important to me, more than half are located in the New Haven area.

I want entrepreneurship and innovation to be part of our New Haven strategy. We have done a great job in retail and homeownership and we need to do more in the area of economic development, something more important than anything we have ever done with New Haven.

Student entrepreneurship is similarly thriving. Since 2007, the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has supported the formation and growth of 79 student-founded ventures. These companies have raised nearly $120 million in funding and created 380 jobs to date. I should mention and thank those of you who have contributed to their success—80 percent of the 150 mentors in the YEI network are Yale alumni.

The entrepreneurial spirit is stronger than ever at the School of Management and its magnificent new campus, Evans Hall. SOM is unique among business schools in its close intellectual and programmatic connection with its home university—a benefit for the school and for Yale overall. As SOM grows, its entrepreneurial curriculum is expanding—with 12 courses in entrepreneurship this year, six of them new, under a new director whom we are very excited about.

Yesterday, you saw and heard students, faculty, and alumni who represent the quality of entrepreneurship and innovation at Yale and among its graduates. I can assure you that if you visit campus any day you will find that entrepreneurial spirit thriving. Last month, for example, Yale’s Center for Biomedical and Interventional Technology and other partners held a three-day Hacking Health @ Yale event at the schools of engineering, management, and medicine. The student group YHack just hosted over 1,000 college students for an intensive Halloween hackathon at the West Campus. Later today, if you pass by Evans Hall, you will find campus and community developers and designers at a 54-hour marathon “Startup Weekend New Haven.”

Here’s the bottom line: every day, everywhere, the entrepreneurial spirit animates Yale. And, importantly, there’s a double bottom line, as that spirit seeks results that have a positive social impact.

I am committed to increasing all of the measures of faculty, student, and alumni entrepreneurship—and to encouraging more entrepreneurs to grow their businesses here in New Haven. The single most important way you can help is to tell people and share the word about this momentum underway at Yale and in New Haven.

This summer, in one of my “Notes from Woodbridge Hall,” I observed: “Yale is a place that embraces ‘creative construction,’ not orthodox adherence to the past, nor the pursuit of innovation merely for its own sake, but a dynamic tradition, where scholars, students, and graduates harness an extraordinary repository of valuable treasures—physical and intellectual, cultural and scientific—to serve society.” That to me is creative construction, the Yale way.

I am excited about how much we have been able to accomplish already with the entrepreneurial spirit at Yale—and I am confident that we will creatively construct much more together in the future. My confidence comes from all that I see around campus—at the CEID, at YEI, at SOM, at the medical campus, on Science Hill, in the humanities, at West Campus, and all over. My confidence comes from the leadership among alumni entrepreneurs who are succeeding close to home and around the world. And my confidence comes from the enthusiasm you have for Yale and our commitment to innovation and excellence.

Thank you being part of the entrepreneurial spirit at Yale—and thank you for sharing the good news about where we are and helping us in thinking about where further we can go together. We have a great story to tell about Yale’s dynamic tradition of innovation for impact—and I am grateful that you are telling it.

We are creatively constructing Yale’s future together while honoring the Yale of the present and the Yale of the past. As we approach the Princeton game tomorrow and the future before us, let me close with two final words:

Go, Bulldogs!