UAA’s Chancellor promotes intrapreneurship from within

Cathy Sandeen, the University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor. (Photo by James R. Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Cathy Sandeen, the University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor. (Photo by James R. Evans/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Cathy Sandeen — who has been serving as UAA’s Chancellor since last September — is no stranger to startups. She left the academic world for three years to work on her brother’s business venture.

“It was a product — a toy/sporting good product that my brother invented,” Sandeen said. “He got intellectual property protection on it. It was a play off of a Frisbee — flying disc. So this toy or product was sold in national toy and sporting good outlets.”

Sandeen learned the struggles entrepreneurs face day in and day out.

“I realized how hard it is — you’re covering a payroll, you have to take out the trash most of the time, you’re doing everything and there’s a lot of pressure,” Sandeen said. “Often, you’re alone because you’re working on a small organization. Finding peers who are on that same level, dealing with those same problems, it’s really, really important.”

The experience of working at a startup formed the building blocks of intrapreneurship for Sandeen —  someone who behaves like an entrepreneur within a large organization.

“An entrepreneur is someone who creates new enterprises, pretty much from scratch, and I think within a university setting there are opportunities to create new projects and units,” Sandeen said. “[Being an intrapreneur] is much [of] the same because you have a concept, you have a customer if you will or user that you need to think about, [and] you need to think about how you are going to fund this, and oftentimes it's with partners or going out after external funding — and then how do you market it? So it really is like a business within a university.”

As someone who has been in public higher education for many years —- and in multiple states — Sandeen understands the pressures to generate alternative revenue streams.

“Here at UAA, those [alternative revenue streams] include traditional development and fundraising,” Sandeen said. “We look at contracts and grants for research and that generates overhead, and we look at other services that we can provide. Some of our faculty who provide research — can they become part of a consulting operation out of the university where firms and organizations pay for that research — they pay the university for our faculty to do their research? I think we have a lot of potential in the area of professional and continuing education.”

Sandeen and her team are currently in the process of establishing an incubator — a space for students to learn from entrepreneurs. In turn, those entrepreneurs can recruit talented students, eager to dive deeper into the startup world.

“It’s all about making a difference at the end of the day,” Sandeen said.