Jim Chung is a force to be reckoned with at George Washington University. He holds the position of executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Office of Technology Transfer, touts an impressive résumé chock full of experience in entrepreneurship, is a talented academic, and knows what it takes to transition from an early stage startup into a full-fledged, marketable, successful business. Chung’s background speaks to what a great asset he is to GW, but it’s what he’s doing now at the helm of the entrepreneurship initiative on campus that makes him a man you can’t afford not to shake hands with.
I had the opportunity to talk to Chung over the phone about his experience in academia, and the work he has done to push GW forth as an innovative institution equipped to produce the next generation of tech savvy business leaders.
InTheCapital: Your résumé reads like a guide to how to be an entrepreneur. What got you so interested in entrepreneurship in the first place? Did it all start at your alma mater, Stanford or MIT?
Jim Chung: I started as an academic actually. I was a research fellow at MIT and Harvard, Fulbright fellow at the University of Tokyo and NSF Fellow at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. So I got very familiar with the academic research world. It was when I was working on my PhD at MIT that I started getting interested in entrepreneurship and technology transfer. I had switched from a focus on international security issues to studying science and technology policy and started to pay attention to innovation in particular.
Soon after I realized I didn’t want to be an academic anymore and looked for other opportunities. At the time I had a brother working at a VC, which was of interest to me. It was 1999, so we were still at the peak of the Internet bubble when it was much easier to get into a VC than it is now. I got my start at an early stage incubator/VC in Cambridge, Mass.
What does your position at GW actually entail? How has your past experience played into the role you hold today?
I was brought in to kick off the entrepreneurship function at GW, outside of research and formal coursework. I oversee and coordinate all of the activities across the university at the different schools to make the sum of the parts much greater as a whole. I was also brought in to help restart the tech transfer office. That has included ramping up the business plan competition the mentorship program to turn it into a year long workshop series.
My previous experience has made me very well suited for what I’m doing now. The two VC firms I started off with happened to have a focus on academic technology transfer startups, startups coming out of MIT and out of Harvard. So I got very familiar with the early stage stuff. From there I worked for a private equity firm so I got familiar with the middle market area. Then I went on to work for Corporate Executive Board as the director of new business development and helped establish the company’s mergers and acquisitions capabilities.
When I was at University of Maryland I had the fortune of being the VC accelerator director, which meant I worked with professors and graduate students to help them launch their companies. We launched seven companies while I was there.
So I know you’ve worked at two local institutions – GW and University of Maryland. How do you think the two compare when it comes to entrepreneurship?
The University of Maryland has been at it in a big way much longer than GW. We’ve had the Center of Entrepreneurial Excellence for a while and my office that has been around for three and a half years, but they have the Dingman Center and Mtech and now they’ve also got the new Academy for Innovation.
One of the big differences between GW and University of Maryland is that University of Maryland is a public school and GW is a private school. So University of Maryland is getting a lot more state dollars for economic development purposes, which entrepreneurship ties in really well with. All of the resources GW gets are from private sources.
In this area, the entrepreneurship folks at different universities are very collegial and are all working together to make the regional ecosystem stronger and create more opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs. We have our startup career expo which started at GW and has now been opened up to all universities. It’s a great pooling of resources by the universities here. There’s also the I-Corps program, which is a cross-university initiative, so we’re all working together to improve the region for students and entrepreneurs alike.
Speaking of the DC I-Corps program, could you tell me a little bit more about what role GW plays?
The program is funded by the National Science Foundation because they realized one of the big roadblocks to getting real inventions out of the universities and into the real world was a lack of commercialization understanding by the ventures themselves. To get rid of that bottleneck, they knew we needed to train the researchers to help them get their inventions out into the world. The I-corps program was created to help uncork the bottleneck here.
You’ve had quite a tremendous impact on campus to the benefit of the university and students. What’s the secret sauce to your success? What challenges have you faced along the way?
I’ve got a lot of great people I’m working with here at GW, both faculty and staff, our alumni volunteers and the entrepreneurship community in general. We don’t have a ton of funding resources, but we’ve got a lot of people putting in their time, interest and efforts to make entrepreneurship successful here.
There are so many awesome things happening at GW and D.C. in general that sometimes it’s tough to grab peoples attention around entrepreneurship. It’s a culture change type of thing to get students and faculty to look outside their immediate vicinity and think about how they can turn this invention into an innovation out in the real world.
What’s your advice for students that want to start up their own business?
The main thing is that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A lot of students think that they’re alone when they’re contemplating the idea of being an entrepreneur, but there are so many people out there in the community. It’s a very supportive environment and they should definitely reach out and look for support.
A lot of first time entrepreneurs are also afraid to share their idea, but that’s just what they need to do to see what the response is like and see if they do have a good idea. Just do it.
What’s your advice for universities interested in launching their own entrepreneurship initiative?
If you’re just starting off, take a good assessment of what your strengths are and try to leverage them before you try to recreate the wheel. There are lots of partners you can work with that are already established.
We started a new mentorship here at GW and worked with existing mentoring groups like FounderCorps, EODC, and a bunch of other entrepreneurship mentoring groups. Tap into resources that are existing and working together as a community is the best advice I can give.
Are there any new things going on at GW that the community should be aware of?
We launched a new social entrepreneurship program which has seemed to resonate with a lot of students. We also raised the business plan competition to $101k in cash prizes this year, which brings us up to the national level of business plan competitions in terms of prize money. We’ve got a number of new initiatives in the works too which we’re excited about, but I’m not ready to say what those are yet. Just know that we’re not sitting still.
Our women’s entrepreneurship programs on campus have acquired national recognition this year. We have our Women Entrepreneurial Leadership Initiative, Hot Mommas® Project, ACTIVATE and Springboard Enterprises, which has helped women raise more than $6 billion.
We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go and will continue to push forward.