March 28, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 9:53 am

GE pulls plug on UConn edgelab

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
UConn School of Business Dean Christopher Earley says he is working to develop a 'next generation model of collaboration,' between UConn and Fairfield-based General Electric.

Fairfield-based General Electric is ending its edgelab accelerator program at the University of Connecticut School of Business in Stamford, putting to bed an 11-year partnership that helped elevate UConn's standing in the business-school community.

School and company officials said the program, which partners UConn graduate students and faculty with GE executives to solve real-world projects for the global conglomerate, has gotten stale and will be discontinued at the end of the spring semester.

GE officials approached UConn about a month ago and said they wanted to end the program, which started in 2000 and was considered, at the time, one of the most innovative, cutting-edge partnerships between a business school and private company.

But both sides say they don't plan to sever their relationship. In fact, UConn and GE officials are in talks about creating a new joint venture that will be potentially be more comprehensive and spread beyond the Stamford campus.

"We are looking to develop something that could be the next generation model of collaboration between the private sector and a university," said Christopher Earley, dean of UConn's School of Business.

Earley said he is working closely with the dean of UConn's engineering school and other faculty to develop a proposal for a new partnership that will be presented to senior GE executives in April.

While Earley would not disclose many details, he said the goal is to create a partnership that will include undergraduate students and better integrate the business and engineering schools. Undergrads and engineers were not as involved with the edgelab accelerator program, which was geared toward PhD's and MBA students in Stamford.

The hope is to also create more internship and job opportunities and spread the program across more UConn campuses.

"The plan is still in the formative stage," Earley said.

GE spokesperson Deia Campanelli said the decision to end edgelab was an "amicable decision" that came after months of discussion and "the simple realization that our decade-old model needs to evolve to a new level and make a significant step forward in collaborative learning."

"We are excited at what the future holds and will be working closely with the University of Connecticut to develop a new innovative model of cooperative education," Campanelli said.

GE's egdelab was a much heralded program when it began in 2000, getting national attention as a model partnership for other B-schools around the country. GE also pledged to give UConn $11 million — the school's largest corporate investment at the time — for classrooms, offices and an e-business laboratory at its Stamford campus.

Earley said edgelab was scheduled to run for five years, but was extended for another six years because it was successful. Students completed about 130 projects during the life of the partnership.

But over the last year and a half, GE was taking a second look at the program and decided to officially pull the plug about a month ago, Earley said.

"It worked well, but the program hadn't changed much over time," Earley said.

UConn has several accelerator programs that it uses as a key selling point to market its business program. They essentially allow the university to partner with private sector companies to provide students hands-on, experiential learning.

GE's edgelab was the school's first accelerator program, but UConn has added others including ones dealing with entrepreneurship, nonprofits, insurance and finance and investing.

Earley said any new GE partnership will not be an accelerator program, but the school is in the process of adding an International Business Accelerator to replace edgelab. The international accelerator will be based in Stamford, and allow UConn students and faculty to partner with Connecticut companies that are seeking to enter or expand in a foreign market.

Graduate students, for example, could help companies develop business or market plans to expand in China or Europe. They could also help companies gather economic intelligence and develop supply connections in a foreign country.

"We want this to be open to businesses statewide," Earley said.

Dan LeClair, senior vice president of The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, said there is an increasing emphasis nationally on strengthening and deepening partnerships between business schools and the private sector. There is also a push to more closely integrate business schools with other departments in a university, especially as pressure mounts within academia to commercialize more research.

"Universities as a whole have a stronger interest in commercializing technology," LeClair said.

Companies also want to collaborate with more than just a business school, LeClair said, especially as their interests broaden into areas like sustainability.

That's why partnerships with both a business and engineering school can look attractive to a company like General Electric, which is making a big push in clean energy innovation with its Ecomagination Challenge.

There is also increasing attention on entrepreneurship, which also tends to cut across the department lines, LeClair said.

"The mix between business, education and research is a growing trend," LeClair said.

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