September 18, 2015

SEC Symposium Q&A: Erik Sander

By: Sean Cartell

The 2015 SEC Symposium, entitled Creativity, Innovation & Entrepreneurship: Driving a 21st Century Economy, will take place Sept. 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta and is led by the University of Florida.

Erik Sander is Director of the Engineering Innovation Institute at the University of Florida, where he has worked since 1995. He is also a member of the University of Florida’s local organizing committee for the SEC Symposium, focusing primarily on the student entrepreneurial pitch competition. Sander sat down with SECU for the following Q&A to discuss the upcoming SEC Symposium.

SECU: The student entrepreneurial pitch competition will take place on Monday during the SEC Symposium. What might attendees and digital stream viewers expect to see from the pitch competition?

Erik Sander:
“This is the first time that we have had an SEC-wide competition in this area, and it creates an opportunity to see the best of the best – student entrepreneurs from all 14 SEC universities. It will be a snapshot in time of the products that the innovation programs within the universities of the SEC are producing. What’s very interesting is the diversity of the opportunities that the students are presenting. If you look at the foundational technology or concept, they are not only some great ideas and opportunities, but a very diverse set of opportunities.”

SECU: From where did the idea of the student entrepreneurial pitch competition originate?

Erik Sander:
“It started with the local organizing committee here at the University of Florida. Early on, we were discussing ways to make the SEC Symposium, which is focused on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial in how we designed the program. All of the individual SEC universities do their own competitions similar to this. This was an opportunity to reach across the universities. The hope is, not only will the program directors learn from each other, but the students will learn from each other as well.”

SECU: Why was it important to have the student entrepreneurial pitch competition judges be SEC university alumni?

Erik Sander: “We wanted to give the students a vision of what their future could be. That was really the initial thought as we worked through how to identify the judges. These are very successful people in the business world, some of whom are entrepreneurs, but some are not. They will serve as role models for the students and we wanted them to weigh in on what they thought were the best student concepts.”

SECU: Why do you feel that creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship were appropriate topics for the third SEC Symposium?

Erik Sander: “If you look at where U.S. universities are heading, what you see not only across the SEC but across the nation, is that U.S. universities have been called upon to have a greater impact on the economy. If you look at the university structure, they are a bastion of thought and have great student minds. Now is the right time to capture the power of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship to help our students understand that, train them in those areas, and then set them loose. At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is sow a seed. We are not only highlighting best practices in creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, but we are also planting a seed across all universities.