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Nov 21, 2023 2023-11 Business Administration Faculty

Kourpas helping lead next generation of student and faculty entrepreneurs

For most entrepreneurs, the call to innovate is like the Siren’s song — a force so powerful and unrelenting it cannot be denied. Elias Kourpas knows that sound because he’s heard it.

Kourpas was a PhD student at Gies College of Business from 1991 to 1996, placing him on campus at the same time that Mosaic was being developed at the University of Illinois. As the world’s first graphic web browser, Mosaic helped popularize the World Wide Web and open the door to many new and exciting possibilities. For Kourpas, who had a dual appointment with engineering, those possibilities were too good to be ignored. “By the time I was finishing in 1996, the global market exploded,” said Kourpas. “So, I decided to join the technological innovation boom.”

For nearly 20 years, he served as Strategy, Marketing and Technology Executive at IBM, where he was responsible for launching new business startups and helping them become multi-billion-dollar companies. Eventually, he put that experience to work for himself, creating an innovative electronic procurement firm called Rovier. Now, he’s come full circle, returning to his alma mater to help lead a long list of exciting entrepreneurial initiatives at Gies.

“The University of Illinois has a great tradition in entrepreneurship that we can enhance and accelerate, especially with student involvement, but also with faculty engagement ,” said Kourpas, who joined Gies as a clinical professor in business administration and Diane & Steven Miller Faculty Fellow in 2022 and is already making strides on both fronts.

Last spring, he became the academic director of the Entrepreneurship certificate, which is being created to foster entrepreneurial innovation across campus. “It’s the first certificate at Gies open to undergraduate students from all academic units interested in entrepreneurship on campus,” said Kourpas.

The innovative program will give students the skills to launch, operate, and grow new business ventures and provides everything they need to master the entrepreneurial process. Opportunity identification, resource acquisition, prototyping — even legal issues and business ethics — are covered under its broad umbrella. Students taking part in the certificate can also supplement their major field of study by customizing their curriculum depending on specific areas of interest.

The core course is Introduction to Entrepreneurship (BADM 346), which Kourpas developed and taught for the first time this past spring. He also taught the sequel to that course —Entrepreneurship: New Venture Creation (BADM 446) — and a graduate-level seminar course in entrepreneurship. Some of those classes will also provide the underpinning for the Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (SIE) major at Gies, for which he is the new academic director.

The SIE major will equip a new generation of pioneers to disrupt industries and open new channels of economic endeavor. And at Gies, those pioneers will have access to many valuable resources, including the Origin Ventures Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The Academy hosts several different programs designed to foster entrepreneurial careers. These include EntreCORPS, which provides strategy consulting to early-stage ventures; Entrepreneurs Without Borders, which focuses on international subsistence initiatives; and Illinois Social Innovation, created to help students launch impactful social ventures. One of the oldest and most-respected programs under the academy’s broad umbrella is the iVenture Accelerator, which was built to give students world-class startup support. This entrepreneurial engine has incubated 100+ ventures led by 300 student entrepreneurs who have gone on to raise more than $100 million for their work. It’s also created over 500 full-time jobs and won various accolades across the globe. Starting this semester, Kourpas will lead the two seminar courses (BADM 463 and 464) associated with the iVenture Accelerator.

Of course, the University of Illinois needs more than great students and academic programs to achieve entrepreneurial excellence; it also needs faculty who are excited and actively engaged in entrepreneurship. To achieve that, Kourpas is co-leading the Faculty Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (FELP), which launched this fall. Twenty prominent faculty members from across the University of Illinois System have been selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of this exciting professional development program, which will accelerate the socioeconomic impact of research and cultivate a dynamic community of faculty entrepreneurs university-wide.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Kourpas also acts as a liaison between Gies, iVenture, and the extended U of I entrepreneurial ecosystem, including the Technology Entrepreneur Center at The Grainger College of Engineering, the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, the University of Illinois Research Park, and Discovery Partners Institute. He is currently also a core member of an interdisciplinary group of researchers who are designing a new graduate certificate that will provide a framework for the identification, exploration and exploitation of healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities using technology and data-driven decision-making as unifying themes.

For Kourpas, it’s very rewarding to be leading these initiatives at Illinois. “It’s a place that I truly love,” said Kourpas, who credits the university with much of the success he’s enjoyed over the years. “It’s had a tremendous impact on my career.”

And now, he hopes to return the favor, preparing the next generation to heed the Siren’s call. And helping them avoid a few rocks along the way.