Innovation and entrepreneurship requires quality education, Markell says
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell
Ruthie Davis, chief executive officer of DAVIS by Ruthie Davis, discusses her stylish shoe line worn by celebrities such as Beyonce.
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7:30 p.m., April 27, 2009----Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said high quality education is the most critical component of an economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurship.

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Markell was delivering the keynote speech during the University of Delaware's conference, “Creating the Systems to Drive Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” held on Friday, April 24, on the Newark campus.

Citing a column by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times, which referred to a study by McKinsey & Co. that showed the U.S. lagging behind other countries in educational achievement, Markell said the U.S. is suffering an “incredibly significant and negative impact” from the education gap.

“Our students just did not do well,” Markell said. “Of the 30 industrialized countries that they surveyed, our students ranked around number 25. If we don't get that right, then the rest of this is just a moot conversation.... Based on my experience in both the public sector and the private sector, there are a few things that can be more critical to our future prosperity.

“We are, in the parlance of today's conference, creating the systems to drive innovation and entrepreneurship,” Markell said. “No question that the first and foremost of that has to do with investing in education, because that is the only short path, in my view, toward an economy that's based on innovation.”

The conference, part of the President's Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, drew about 400 business, government and academic leaders and featured remarks by U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, reflections on the Council on Competitiveness by Chad Holliday, chairman of the board of DuPont and chairman of the Council on Competitiveness, and Deborah Wince Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness.

UD President Patrick Harker highlighted major steps that the University has taken to strengthen and supplement existing programs in order to foster innovation and entrepreneurship, from streamlining the patent procurement process to the creation of the Entrepreneur-in-Residence program and the formation of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance with Thomas Jefferson University, Nemours and Christiana Care.

“Economic downturns have always been prime incubators of entrepreneurial activity,” Harker said. “It's the iconoclasts, the innovators and the entrepreneurs who emerge during times like these. And that's why -- boom or bust -- we'll continue to foster innovation and entrepreneurship as the mainstays of economic leadership.”

David Welch, founder and chief marketing and strategy officer of Infinera Corp., offered an industry perspective on innovation and entrepreneurship and Ruthie Davis, chief executive officer of DAVIS by Ruthie Davis, presented a lecture on “Innovation in the Global Marketplace,” based on her line of stylish shoes that are worn by celebrities such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Lady Gaga.

A panel on “Taking the Risk: Living in the Entrepreneurial World” included Jared Augustine, executive manager, SeamlessWeb; Rob Van Etten, president, Brighton Cromwell; and Kerwin Gaines, CEO and chief analyst, Blue Assurance Corp.

Pedro Moore, founding president of UD’s Entrepreneurship Club who graduated in 2006 and now runs, led a panel discussion on "Taking the Risk: Living in the Entrepreneurial World."

The event also featured a video presentation on the power of entrepreneurship education for elementary and secondary school students by James O'Neill, director of UD's Center for Economic Education and Entrepreneurship.

“Our economy has become increasingly complex as we live in a global society with increased competition,” O'Neill said. “It's important to introduce critical thinking skills, creativity, prudent risk taking at a much earlier age.”

The winners of the UD Business Plan competition, which was held on Thursday, April 23, were announced during the event.

The winner in the graduate category was Edwar Delgado, an MBA student who graduated in December 2008. The top prize in the undergraduate category went to Francois Chaubard, a senior mechanical engineering major, and Brandon Maas, a computer science major who also graduated in December 2008.

Article by Martin A Mbugua
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson