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INTERNATIONAL - A decade ago, Devin Jameson might have chosen to drop out of college and work on Eversound, a wireless headset start-up for senior communities.

Instead, Jameson was able to combine his co-founded company with his academic course work through Cornell University’s eLab programme, an accelerator curriculum he completed in 2015.

The eLab programme runs for a full academic year.

Students build out their businesses while participating in lectures, class work, mentorship and receiving a $5000 (R62930) investment. At the end of the programme, students demo their businesses in front of a crowd of hundreds, including potential investors.

“Being able to get actual college credit for going through an incubator programme was really important,” Jameson said. “I didn’t have to make a compromise.”

As students increasingly pursue entrepreneurship, more universities are creating accelerator and incubator programmes to support them.

They are also nurturing job skills that will help the next generation of workers thrive in the gig economy, including flexibility, innovation and digital expertise.

The share of incubator programmes associated with universities has grown to a record high of 42percent, according to the International Business Innovation Association’s 2016 Impact Index, up from around one-third in 2012 and one-fifth in 2006.

This trend comes as the US venture capital industry deployed $84billion to entrepreneurs last year, the highest annual amount since the early 2000s dot-com boom, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

The world is desperate for innovative and versatile talent, said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State, which launched a major push to encourage entrepreneurship in 2015 with its Invent Penn State initiative.

Leg up

“Having that entrepreneurial mindset is really a leg up in this day and age where you don’t go to work at one corporation your entire career,” Sharkey said.

Entrepreneurship is critical not only to benefit students, but also to serve society by creating jobs and driving economic growth, said Penn State president Eric Barron.

Since its launch, 21 of Penn State’s campuses have created “innovation hubs” that provide co-working space, accelerators and other resources to students, faculty and community members.

The school has also added entrepreneurship minors in most colleges. It has an alumnus-founded Summer Founders programme, with a $10000 stipend, that allows students to scale their ventures between semesters in a formal accelerator setting.

At Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, the school’s incubator programme emerged from one computer science professor’s simple question: What would it take for more students to stay in the city after graduation?

Students told her they were leaving because the jobs they wanted were elsewhere, and they did not know how to create new ones. The professor, Lenore Blum, founded Project Olympus to teach students how to invent the jobs they want.

The programme has grown from advising 20 potential start-ups a decade ago to 140 this year. It has created more than 400 full-time positions in the city, according to Kit Needham, the director.

Incubator and accelerator programmes vary in their structure and ties to the university. Project Olympus is a non-competitive extra-curricular programme and allows any student, faculty or staff member to receive free guidance and access to resources.

In some cases, students are motivated enough to create programmes without university assistance. 

- REUTERS