When Ann Dugan founded the University of Pittsburgh's Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence 20 years ago, it took the toughest sell of her career to show regional stakeholders the merits of self employment.
"People were telling me that it couldn't be done at the University of Pittsburgh, that Pitt doesn't care about entrepreneurs. There were a lot of first-generation students who mostly cared about graduating and getting a job with a Fortune 50 corporation," she said.
After building a budget from around $300,000 per year to more than $22 million over the course of her career, Ms. Dugan, 60, is ready to pass the baton. She announced last month that she will step down from her position as executive director of the institute and as assistant dean in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business in the first quarter of next year.
While her victories with the institute include 800 new businesses, $300 million in funding for clients and an educational series that has hosted 4,400 programs for entrepreneurs, she also has helped the institute seek out non-traditional funding sources for clients. In October, the institute became a trustee for Kiva Zip, an international program that provides crowd-funded, zero interest loans of between $500 and $5,000 for entrepreneurs.
Among her most recent accomplishments is the Innovation Institute, a collaboration between the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, Pitt's Office of Technology Management and Pitt's Office of Enterprise Development to encourage the creation of businesses, the commercialization of individual concepts and products, and the formulation of educational programs geared toward business at all stages.
Marc Malandro, interim director of the Innovation Institute, said the collaborative concept has been in the works for years, but Ms. Dugan's looming departure helped it to come together over the past few months. He said the Innovation Institute is designed to reach out to entrepreneurs far beyond Pitt's campus.
"The institute will support a culture of innovation and a culture of entrepreneurship not only on campus but will extend what Ann put together for the Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence and reach out to the regional community," he said.
Ms. Dugan said the next leg of her journey will only continue her mission of economic development through entrepreneurism.
"My vision is that I think we could do better in our collective ability to focus on what is really the art of the possible in the region regarding economic development," she said.
Between helping university officials in the national search for a successor, Ms. Dugan has been meeting with private and public stakeholders to discuss the best ways to leverage the region's resources to grow businesses to the next stage.
Pittsburgh recently entered the national spotlight as the No. 13 city for startup capital investment, according to the National Venture Capital Association in Arlington, Va. However, when it comes to providing the support that builds local businesses into national corporations, the region's universities, government officials and established investors could be doing much more, Ms. Dugan said.
"I've been working with the some of the top universities around the country and many of them use higher education as an anchor for economic development. What I'm seeing is that some of the most dynamic programs [happen] when they bring together this initiative for economic development with the help of public and private sector leaders," she said.
With the idea only in its earliest stages, Ms. Dugan couldn't say exactly how she thought such a partnership will come together. However, with plans to meet with stakeholders in education, health care, energy and other dominant sectors in the region, she said she hopes to have a more solid plan in place by early next year.
Whatever emerges, she said, will provide the missing link that takes Pittsburgh from a city for startups to a national center for businesses of all stages.
"I really do believe we have increased talent, opportunity and resources here, we just need to bring them together in a focused manner," she said.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652.