DIVERSITY IS NOT ABOUT HOW WE DIFFER. DIVERSITY IS ABOUT EMBRACING ONE ANOTHER’S UNIQUENESS.
An incredible PhD Project member reflects on his entrepreneurship journey.
Dr. Jeffrey Robinson knows that entrepreneurship is about having a vision, finding the right opportunities, harnessing innovation, raising capital, and tapping into the entrepreneurial networks. And he’s on a mission to give college students and community members the tools they need to create successful businesses that make a positive impact.
The current Provost & Executive Vice-Chancellor at Rutgers University-Newark, Dr. Robinson is an award-winning business school professor, international speaker, entrepreneur, and member of The PhD Project—a national nonprofit organization that’s diversifying corporate America by diversifying the role models in front of college classrooms. He is also a research fellow of the Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development and is a co-founder of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development. In these roles, he implements strategic initiatives in the areas of innovation, economic development and faculty recruitment and retention.
Dr. Robinson recently reflected on his entrepreneurship journey, his research and how he’s making an impact on his campus, in his community and beyond.
How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My grandmother raised six kids and owned her own upholstery store. She hired some of our relatives as employees to help fix furniture. My father was a professional electrician and got his license to become a contractor to work on residential and commercial properties. And when I was an undergraduate student at Rutgers University, I had my own business with my roommates. Before there was streaming music, we sold records, CDs, and tapes on campus. This business enabled us to fund our other business, which was hosting educational workshops for high school students and their families. I’ve been around entrepreneurship for much of my life. These experiences planted the seed for what I’m doing now. I love creating businesses and helping others do the same.
Tell us about your Opportunity Identification & Evaluation class. How do you prepare your students for the realities of going into business for themselves?
You can think of this class as the introduction to entrepreneurship for graduate students in the MBA program. Students learn the process of coming up with an idea and discovering if it has a real possibility of being a viable business. A lot of people have ideas, but the important part, if you want to be an entrepreneur, is to take the idea and do something with it. Write it down on a piece of paper, ask others to weigh in and give you feedback and then test it out. This means you’re looking for the business model that’s going to work and make an impact financially, socially, civically, or whatever your purpose may be. Overall, the course helps students think through the entire entrepreneurship process from start to finish.
What’s the mission of The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development? How have your fellow PhD Project members been involved in the center over the years?
The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development (CUEED) at Rutgers Business School seeks to benefit individuals and communities through research, education, and economic development. Founded 14 years ago, CUEED has made a significant economic impact on the Newark, New Jersey, area by supporting more than 500 entrepreneurs. As an academic director at CUEED, I have been able to put my influential scholarship to practical implementation through social entrepreneurship and promoting minority businesses.
There are quite a few PhD Project members who have been involved with this initiative. In fact, I started The Center with fellow member Dr. dt ogilvie of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). She was very much present in setting up the direction and purpose. After she left to become dean and professor at Saunders College of Business at RIT, the late Dr. Jerome Williams of Rutgers University-Newark became the executive director. Over the years, we’ve had conferences and collaborated with PhD Project members from across the country. Lastly, we’ve gotten involved with recruiting, so now Dr. Anastasia Bailey is an assistant professor in the entrepreneurship program. We are looking to recruit more professors over the next few years. The PhD Project members have truly been instrumental.
What are you focused on in your role as a research fellow of the Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development? How is your work with the Institute making an impact in New Jersey and beyond?
I’ve been working on creating a space for inclusive innovation. This initiative is making sure that creators, producers, and innovators of technology, in particular, are as diverse and representative as the United States population. Our nation is diverse, but the pool of innovators who have been doing a lot of groundbreaking work isn’t as diverse. My goal is to help change that.
There are different aspects of our work that impact our community in New Jersey and beyond. The first level is the work that we have done over the years to create meaningful courses and activities for our students. The next level is to connect our students with our alumni by figuring out ways to get them to be mentors, and in some cases, investors. If you go one more level, you have the community, and in our case, the Newark community. We’ve been working with small business owners by offering training and economic development-type activities. Some of our students in graduate and undergraduate programs are working with business owners on market and strategy plans. Beyond that, we’ve been focusing on technology businesses owned by people of color with our pre-accelerator program, which has been instrumental with a pipeline of folks there. Finally, we are actively engaged in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, so all the different entities around New Jersey are involved in supporting entrepreneurs. We have been a resource and collaborator for them. Overall, we’ve done a lot in the past 15 years to build and engage the community.
The PhD Project Annual Conference gives prospective doctoral students a realistic look at every phase of the PhD journey as well as an opportunity to network with current doctoral students, business school representatives, professors, and partner organizations—all in one place. If you would like to apply for the upcoming March conference to learn more about how you can help create a stronger, more diverse workforce as a college faculty member, please visit https://phdproject.org/annual-conference/.