Leaders from the Texas A&M University System, its flagship university, and Halliburton recently gathered with alumni from some of the world’s top businesses for a daylong session on the future of entrepreneurship at Texas A&M.
The gathering, held at the Houston headquarters of global energy company Halliburton, was titled “Shaping the Future of Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M: A Shared Vision.” The event is designed to open discussions among key stakeholders on how the university can develop entrepreneurship across disciplines. About 50 attendees watched the presentations and discussed creating an “entrepreneurship hub” on campus to support hands-on learning, cross-pollination of disciplines, and real-world impact for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp took the opportunity to brag about the students and faculty.
“These universities that are really good at entrepreneurship and commercialization all have three things in common, and they are really good students, lots of research and great commercialization,” he said. Regents David Baggett, Jay Graham and Michael Plank. “I think we’re better than these universities at all three things.”
On the research side, Sharp said the United States Space Force recently chose Texas A&M to lead an initiative to develop operations in space, calling it a testament to the university’s leadership in innovation.
Texas A&M President Mark A. Welsh III spoke as a panelist in a presentation titled “Investing in Our University and Texas.” Joining him were Jennifer McFerrin-Bohner — daughter of Texas A&M philanthropists Dorothy and Artie R. McFerrin ’65 and the driving force behind the event — and Halliburton CEO Jeff Miller ’88.
“I hope we see entrepreneurship and innovation as fraternal twins,” Wales told the audience. “They are different things in my mind. Innovators come up with new ways to solve immediate problems or new technology to solve longer-term problems. Entrepreneurs tend to see an existing talent gap. They see where something is wrong and then with their innovative skills find a way to find a solution for it … There are some practical parts to this that we need to think about. But there is no reason why we cannot be the number one entrepreneurial school in the country.”
McFerrin-Bohner said she and her family “will help create a robust ecosystem for Texas A&M that will involve students — all working together on projects — faculty, diverse startups and engaging industry to solve real-world problems.” He stressed the importance of programs being accessible to everyone on campus and “with a lot of faculty involvement.”
“Entrepreneurship is a team sport”
A consistent theme throughout the day emphasized the importance of cooperation. A spirit of collaboration spreads among students, faculty, staff, industry leaders, alumni, donors and other stakeholders, all of whom are aligned with future entrepreneurship on campus.
“Entrepreneurship is a team sport,” said Mike Francis ’06, familiar with the day’s events. He received his bachelor’s degree in information and operations management from Mays Business School and is currently the CEO and co-founder of NanoTech, a fire-resistant coating company. “Our alumni network, faculty is the best team on the planet. That is why I believe with all my heart that Texas A&M will be the number one university for entrepreneurship in the United States.”
Francis said that Miller, who has served as Halliburton’s CEO since 2017, is an exemplary leader who innovates from within, even though he is not the company’s founder.
Miller, who earned an MBA from the Mays School of Business, said growing entrepreneurship at Texas A&M will require breaking down silos. He spoke about Halliburton Labs, the company’s business accelerator, where foreign firms conduct research and development with a significant focus on the future of energy.
“Texas A&M is leading in so many areas that we need to be leaders in entrepreneurship … It’s in our wheelhouse. I think colleges do great things like engineering,” Miller said. In addition to having its fair share of Aggies on staff, Halliburton supports education at A&M, including the Halliburton Engineering Global Programs, which provide study abroad opportunities for engineering students.
The ‘R’ in R&D
As a Tier 1 research institution—the first university in Texas to invest $1 billion in annual expenditures—Texas A&M students and faculty conduct research in the lab and in the field, spanning every continent. This research often translates into real-world solutions.
Dr. Norman Borlaug, director of the Institute for International Agriculture and Development and former president of Texas A&M. Elsa Murano discussed the importance of research in relation to entrepreneurship.
“For example, you have basic research done in the laboratory to develop new types of crops or to determine why certain microorganisms can thrive in certain environments and then cause disease. It happens in the lab, that’s where it starts,” Murano said. “But then research turns to application, and that’s where institutions like Borlaug come into play. We connect with faculty who find solutions and deliver them to incredible results in developing countries around the world. We convey that knowledge from the laboratory to the farmer.”
Education and Support of Future Entrepreneurs
Ensuring that students are well prepared to become the entrepreneurs of tomorrow was the focus of panels featuring Aggie business leaders as well as staff and faculty from leading entrepreneurship programs. Helping students develop an entrepreneurial mindset is important, participants agreed. Participating in a panel of business leaders, Murano spoke of these critical thinking skills and open-minded approaches to problem solving.
“Entrepreneurial mindset is very important in many aspects of life. The most obvious, of course, is when someone thinks about starting a business, and that’s great,” Murano said. “But it actually plays a big role in other parts of life. Whether you’re an executive or a manager, whatever business or place you’re in, entrepreneurship is a mindset where you try to think outside the box, find new ways to solve a problem or solve a problem, to achieve a goal. . You get other people to come and give their opinions. You talk about these ideas, you analyze them, and because of this collaboration, your potential for success increases enormously.”
Jim Donnell, director of the Meloy Texas A&M Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, discussed what his program does to foster this mindset in its students. “Through our recently introduced program, we expose engineering students to curricular and extracurricular experiences and add an element of entrepreneurship,” he said. “And we graduate some of the best and brightest.”
Francis said that innovation, especially in the field of technology, is changing so rapidly that teachers need to develop students’ leadership skills through entrepreneurship.
“Gen Z is here,” he said. “I have given speeches in various colleges in the last 10 years. Before starting each of my conversations, I ask how many people want to be entrepreneurs. Ten years ago, you might have four or five hands. I did a few months ago; there are about 500 first-year engineers in the room. “Who wants to be an entrepreneur?” we asked the question. Well, about 400 of them raised their hands.”
Francis said he hopes the day’s events will continue the conversation about entrepreneurship at Texas A&M among those in attendance as well as the broader Aggie community.
“We have the best network on the planet,” he said. “We have the faculty, we have the students, we have the momentum, and the network has this Maroon wave. The Aggie Network is what will carry us forward.