Introducing students to the realm of entrepreneurship produces “astute problem solvers and creative thinkers,” said Avimanyu Datta, Ph.D.
As the new director of the George R. and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Illinois State University, Datta is looking forward to fostering opportunities for young people to develop such skills. The educator believes it is vitally important for students—both inside and outside of the College of Business—to have an understanding of entrepreneurship, especially in today’s changing marketplace.
“We are living in interesting times,” Datta said. “The largest retail store has no physical presence, and the biggest taxi company does not own a single vehicle. This beckons inventive thinkers with an entrepreneurial outlook to develop new technologies, products, and services. The Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies responds to this call by helping students harness their competencies through real-life projects. We prepare students to transform their ideas into new products for existing firms or the creation of new firms.”
Datta explained that while many Illinois State students go on to develop successful companies based on the ideas they developed while on campus, the program’s mission “goes far beyond helping students launch startups.”
“We aim to provide each of our students with an entrepreneurship toolkit that they can use at every stage of their careers,” he said. “Entrepreneurship and innovation skills are needed in almost every type of position and company today—not just in startups.”
The new director went on to explain that many people solely associate entrepreneurship with starting a small business, but the concept “extends beyond that shackle.”
“A new idea does not require a new firm to create impact. Nor does it require the student to manage the firm,” said Datta, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship. “An idea that is technologically rich can attract funding from angel investors, venture capitalists, or can even be absorbed by another firm. Impactful ideas that integrate corporate entrepreneurship usually have far-reaching potential than a simplistic view of entrepreneurship from the standpoint of creating and managing startups.”
As he looks to the future of the Means Center, Datta said, “We must recognize impactful ideas for innovation and entrepreneurship frequently occur outside the perimeters of a business school.”
For that reason, he hopes to foster alliances with other colleges on the Illinois State campus, as well as with innovative firms. He also is exploring ways to bolster venture capital opportunities in the local area.
Illinois ranks seventh in the country for venture capital funding with an average per venture funding of $10.42 million, according to a 2018 U.S. News & World Report.
“The funding, however, is highly concentrated in the Chicago hub, followed by Urbana-Champaign,” said Datta. “In my assessment, our twin cities of Bloomington-Normal have not reached their potential when it comes to venture capital funding. My long-term goal for the Means Center is for it to play a pivotal role in making our twin cities a formidable player in Illinois’ venture funding rankings. To attain this long-term goal, we need to first accomplish some short-term objectives, such as create innovative courses and forge an alliance with angel investors, venture capitalists, and IP lawyers.”
This summer, as he enters into his new role, Datta said he is pleased to be “a part of a dedicated team that is committed to making the Means Center take a center stage of becoming an entrepreneurial platform in the state of Illinois.”
A native of India, Datta studied information systems for his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
“I was always curious what makes certain systems work whereas others fail. But, more importantly, why does the same system show different results in two different firms? That led to asking a more generic question: What differentiates one firm from another?” he said.
The desire to explore these topics led Datta to pursue a Ph.D. in business administration from the Carson College of Business at Washington State University and switch from consulting to academia.
His research interests include investigating such topics as entrepreneurship, the strategic use of social media by new ventures, and what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign. He is also fascinated by how older, established firms display innovation.
When he is not in the office, Datta enjoys painting; learning about super cars and mechanical watches; attending concerts with his wife, Priyanka; savoring good meals; and spending time with their dog, Bruce, who “represents all things innocent and silly in our lives.”
To explore opportunities for student entrepreneurs, such as the annual StartUp Showcase and Accelerator Program, visit the Means Center website at Business.IllinoisState.edu/Means.