Q&A with Andrew Nelson

Andrew Nelson, associate professor of management in the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, was recently named the new executive director of Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network (RAIN) activities at the UO.

Oregon RAIN is leveraging community, university and business resources to build the startup ecosystem in the state’s south Willamette Valley and mid-coast region. UO is a key partner in RAIN as one of the providers of innovation and human capital to help our region create high-growth, technology-based startup companies.

Nelson is the director of the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship and is the Bramsen Faculty Fellow in innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainability at the UO. His research explores how organizational context spurs innovation and entrepreneurship, and has been recognized by several institutions, including the Kauffman Foundation.

We spoke with Andrew Nelson about campus innovation at the UO and his vision for facilitating opportunities for faculty and students in the future.

Q: How would you define “innovation” as it relates to the sort of activities and opportunities on campus that you want to support?

That question could fill a page itself! I’d define it simply as: applied creativity—the generation of a new solution or approach that has social, economic and/or environmental value. Thus, an “innovation” can be a product, a technology, a methodology, or even an idea.

Q: What makes the University of Oregon a unique place for innovation?

A: The people. We have an intelligent, driven and intensely curious bunch who excel at what they do and, critically, are interested in what others do. Universities are special places for innovation because they house diversity; by definition, they pull together different disciplines, people and perspectives. The power of university innovation lies, in large part, in reassembling those puzzles pieces in unique ways. Fortunately, the UO already has a history of reaching across boundaries.

Q: What are some of your priorities for your first year as executive director?

A: First, to listen and learn. Second, to build awareness about activities already underway and to consider how these activities can be leveraged against one another to maximize their effects. Third, to identify new resources and activities that will support innovation across campus.

Q: Where do you see innovation at the UO going in five years?

A: That’s always the million dollar question! I see this role as facilitating the visions of faculty, staff and students themselves, rather than forecasting a particular direction for change. Regardless of the specific direction of innovation at UO, I’d be shocked if interdisciplinarity and broad collaboration don’t play major roles.

Q: What are some examples of student success stories you’ve seen?

A: I’ve had the good fortune to work with tremendous students at both the University of Oregon and Stanford. I have a broad view of innovation, and I’d interpret student success stories accordingly.

I have former students who’ve launched companies to tackle challenges in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology, information technology and other sectors within the technology space; students who’ve started food, apparel and other non-tech companies; students who’ve gone into large existing companies to reinvigorate product lines or to introduce new offerings; and students who’ve taken the insights of entrepreneurship and have applied them to various non-profits, including groups focused on the developing world and on healthcare challenges.

Frankly, almost every sector can benefit from innovation and we have former students out there making a difference every day.

You can read the original news release to learn more about Andrew Nelson's role as executive director of RAIN activities at the Univeristy of Oregon.