Entrepreneurship at Princeton: An interview with Mung Chiang

Mung ChiangPROFESSOR MUNG CHIANG has integrated fundamental research on computer network optimization with several successful business ventures. As director of the Keller Center, which expands the scope of engineering education to include leadership and societal issues, Chiang is dedicated to cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Chiang, the Arthur LeGrand Doty Professor of Electrical Engineering, also leads the Princeton Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee, which was assembled by Provost David Lee and convened in January 2014 to explore ways to expand entrepreneurship opportunities for students, faculty members and alumni.

In this interview, he emphasizes that not all entrepreneurship is about technology.

How do you define entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be commercializing some scientific or engineering product. It’s much broader than that. It’s a mindset that involves solving big problems through risk-taking actions with relatively few resources. You can be a social entrepreneur or a tech entrepreneur. You can found or join a startup. You can be an entrepreneur in the government, in a big corporation, in a nonprofit — in any organization. You can do it when you’re 22, or you can do it when you’re 92.

What has the committee learned so far from its “listening phase”? First, there is a surging interest from students to have the opportunity to be exposed to entrepreneurship. We also have extremely strong support from alumni. And we have learned that whatever the committee recommends, in the end, the hard work is going to boil down to the execution, and creative entrepreneurs working side by side to push, to pivot and to persist.

How can entrepreneurship connect to a liberal arts education? Our working definition of entrepreneurship is all about the broadening of the mind and training of the character. Interestingly, in our survey some of the strongest responses came from students and alumni in the humanities and social sciences. And there is a good reason for that. Entrepreneurship, unlike certain types of technology jobs, is fundamentally about your intrinsic capability and mindset, and not about a particular kind of vocational skill. We hope to expose students and faculty to the possibilities of entrepreneurship, to enable those who choose to become entrepreneurs, and to enhance the overall education and research environment at Princeton.

–By Molly Sharlach