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The campus as entrepreneurial ecosystem: the University of Chicago


This paper employs Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis of American democracy to construct a framework for understanding the U.S. university campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem. One question that immediately comes to mind when studying ecosystem performance is what the proper unit of analysis is: the country, the state, the city, the region, or something smaller, like an incubator or accelerator? This paper suggests that the open, innovative American frontier that closed at the end of the twentieth century has reemerged in the entrepreneurial economy on the U.S. campus. The contemporary campus entrepreneurial ecosystem offers the characteristics of Turner’s frontier: available assets, liberty, and diversity while creating opportunity, and fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. A case study of the University of Chicago explores governance of the campus as an entrepreneurial ecosystem and the output produced by that campus ecosystem.

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    At the time this research was published (July 2015), GRPN had a market cap of more than $3 billion.

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    Online coupon service Groupon was dubbed the fastest growing company in world history by Fortune magazine in 2010. With Mason as CEO, Groupon went public in November 2011; by raising $700 million in 1 day, it became the largest IPO of a U.S. Internet company since Google’s in 2004.

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    Techcrunch and Angelist are two of the crowdsourced public databases on venture-funded firms, investors, and other information related to entrepreneurship and innovation. In most cases, these sites depend on registered members submitting information with citations and links to citations. For example, SEC filings on ventures included in this research were located via these types of public databases.

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    Ranked number 10 in world university rankings by Times Higher Education; see; 2012–2013 QS world rankings.

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    The history of the University of Chicago Press is fascinating in its own right, as it is responsible for many firsts in academic publishing and various other fields. Basic information the organization can be found at

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    The Harper Center is named after a different Charles Harper. The namesake for the building is Booth graduate Charles M. Harper (‘50), former CEO of ConAgra.

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    The six Nobel Prize winners in residence at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1997 were George Stigler (1982), Merton Miller (1990), Ronald Coase (1991), Gary Becker (1992), Robert Fogel (1993), and Merton Scholes (1994). See

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    Staying true to the original and current goals of experiential pedagogy for entrepreneurship, Booth offerings include the following courses: New Venture Lab, Private Equity and Venture Capital Lab, Social Enterprise Lab, Clean Tech Lab, New Venture Challenge, and Entrepreneurial Internship Seminar (Polsky Center, 2012). For a full list of the courses and labs that Chicago offers for students interested in studying entrepreneurship, visit

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    The University of Chicago runs the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab and comanages the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

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    The Social Enterprise Initiative was endowed in 2012 with a $5 million gift from former Computer Discount Warehouse CEO John Edwardson, MBA 1972

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    In February 2013, Accelerate Labs joined with Colorado- and New York-based venture accelerator Tech Stars. See The accelerator continues to work with the University of Chicago and Polsky on various programs.

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    According to the most recent Bureau of Economic Analysis Report in fall 2013, Chicago continues to be the third largest metropolitan region in the USA, behind New York and Los Angeles and ahead of Houston and Washington, D.C. GDP by Metropolitan Division, BEA 13–42, September 17, 2013. See


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Correspondence to David J. Miller.

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Miller, D.J., Acs, Z.J. The campus as entrepreneurial ecosystem: the University of Chicago. Small Bus Econ 49, 75–95 (2017).

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  • Frontier
  • Frederick Jackson Turner
  • Growth
  • Campus
  • Ecosystem
  • Higher education
  • Unicorns
  • Innovation
  • American exceptionalism
  • New venture creation

JEL classification

  • B1
  • B2
  • I2
  • L26
  • M1