On Tuesday evening, Southern Methodist University took another stride toward becoming a national powerhouse of innovation and entrepreneurship with the announcement of Dr. Duncan MacFarlane as the University’s first Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship. The new position in the Lyle School of Engineering was made possible by a financial commitment from SMU alum, benefactor, and trustee Dr. Bobby B. Lyle, for whom the school is named.
“Entrepreneurship at SMU will today take a giant leap forward,” says Lyle, who founded Lyco Energy Corporation in 1981, and has steadfastly provided more than 27 years of service as an SMU trustee. “This is one of the most important days of the year. In fact, it’s one of the most important days in several years for us.”
MacFarlane, a pioneering photonics engineer who has held positions at several technology and engineering firms, including Texas Instruments, also holds the titles of associate dean for Engineering Entrepreneurship and professor of electrical engineering at SMU’s Lyle School. In the new role, MacFarlane will aim to help members of the SMU community cultivate big ideas into business opportunities, while working to grow an engaging entrepreneurial education.
“[Dr. MacFarlane’s] combination of engineering prowess and hands-on business experience will help connect programs and people from all of the schools on our campus, and, more broadly, throughout the Dallas community,” Lyle says.
Turning Ideas Into Businesses
Following the announcement on February 2, Dr. MacFarlane, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and an MBA from SMU’s Cox School of business, moderated a panel discussion on engaging entrepreneurship across SMU and throughout Dallas. “It is my hope the line between teaching and practice gets blurred,” MacFarlane says of his new tenure. “My goal is to help students, faculty, and staff build companies.”
MacFarlane opened the panel discussion, which included representatives from SMU’s seven schools. Among the group was Edward Allegra, an SMU senior studying economics and minoring in biology with a focus on pre-med. Set to graduate this spring, Allegra is the co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based startup BioLum, which developed a smartphone-based imaging system that is able to diagnose, monitor, and help treat asthma.
“It is my hope the line between teaching and practice gets blurred,” Dr. MacFarlane says of his new tenure. “My goal is to help students, faculty, and staff build companies.”
“I wanted to go out and do something I would love doing all day,” says Allegra, whose startup currently works out of a lab in the Dedman Life Sciences Building on SMU’s campus. “Everything the school provides is excellent. As a startup with limited funding and ups and downs, it’s great to have great resources on campus.”
In addition to workspace, collaboration opportunities, and resources, Allegra benefits from Big iDeas, an SMU program that awards grants to undergraduate student teams to research and improve issues facing the Dallas area and beyond. Allegra and the BioLum team won the SMU Pitch Contest in 2014 and the Business Plan Competition in 2015. As a result, they were awarded funding and recognition, two vital components to the long-term success of any startup.
“Making it easier for students, faculty, and staff across campus to transition their ideas into high-tech companies is the motivation behind engineering entrepreneurship at Lyle,” MacFarlane says. “Any barriers to new ventures need to be lowered.”
Toward that goal, MacFarlane highlighted the potential for collaborating with proven innovation programs that exist across the many academic disciplines SMU offers, something he refers to as “an ecosystem, a multiplicity of resources, to incubate ideas.”
As one example, MacFarlane says he sees great potential for collaboration with The Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship in the Cox School of Business, one of the first university-based entrepreneurship centers in the country when it was founded in 1970.
“Lyle students are innovating and commercializing their ideas,” MacFarlane says. “I want to help people across our entire campus understand and use technology to turn their ideas into products.”
SMU’s Focus Entrepreneurism in Its Second Century
SMU’s engineering school was named after Dr. Bobby Lyle in 2008, the same year the university began its efforts for SMU Unbridled: The Second Century Campaign. Centered on SMU’s recent centennial celebration period, SMU Unbridled concluded at the end of 2015, and raised more than $1 billion to support student quality, faculty, academic excellence, and the campus experience. Central to each of those areas was bolstering SMU’s leadership as a national hub of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Tuesday’s announcement of Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship was in many ways a bookend between what SMU sought to be and what it is about to become.
“Entrepreneurship education has been important for many years at SMU,” says R. Gerald Turner, SMU’s 10th president. As SMU looks ahead to its next 100 years, it has committed to continuing the pursuit of entrepreneurism started in 1970 with the founding of the Caruth Institute.
Tuesday’s announcement of Bobby B. Lyle Centennial Chair in Engineering Entrepreneurship was in many ways a bookend between what SMU sought to be and what it is about to become. Of lasting significance is the chair’s centennial designation, which will continue to reflect a special naming opportunity that was made possible during SMU Unbridled.
“[Today’s announcement] comes at a time when SMU is gaining well-deserved recognition as a place where good ideas are nurtured to become good business,” Turner says.
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