Published December 17, 2019
Chair holder aims to make Rutgers Business School national leader in entrepreneurship studies
As the inaugural George F. Farris Chair in Entrepreneurship at Rutgers University–Newark, Ted Baker says his goal is to make Rutgers “the number one public university in the United States bringing together entrepreneurship research, teaching, and community engagement.”
Holding the endowed chair is the culmination of many hats Baker has worn, including entrepreneur, executive, consultant, researcher, and teacher. The chair was created with a gift from the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Foundation and an anonymous donor in honor of George Farris, the founding director of Rutgers’ Technology Management Research Center and a Rutgers faculty member for 31 years.
Baker is also the director of Rutgers’ Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development (RAISED), which works with other research centers at Rutgers that are focused on entrepreneurship, including The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, the Technology Management Research Center, and the Collaborative for Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Commercialization. “I’m excited to be surrounded by people who are as excited about this as I am,” Baker says. “There’s a sense of commitment and collaboration here, and it’s not something you see at many universities.”
His career has been a blend of entrepreneurship and academia, including leading two successful startups and founding a third while in graduate school. He earned a doctorate and a master’s degree in sociology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Previously the founding director of the Entrepreneurship Collaborative at North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management, Baker focuses his research on identifying the skills and behaviors that allow entrepreneurs to overcome obstacles and achieve success. His current work on Founder Identity Theory, for example, explores the processes through which entrepreneurship sometimes allows people to pursue their goals and become who they want to be, despite the resource constraints and adversity that often hinder attempts to create new businesses.
He co-founded RU-Flourishing, which helps previously incarcerated people who are likely to have great difficulty in finding good jobs—and are therefore at high risk of returning to prison—create and grow their own businesses and flourish as they rebuild their lives. In addition to improving outcomes for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, the program provides training on best practices for aspiring entrepreneurs of all backgrounds and experience, with an emphasis on resourcefulness and furthering an understanding of what works well in mentoring entrepreneurs facing these sorts of challenges.
Baker has done consulting and training work with such companies as Comcast, General Motors, IBM, Jones Dairy Farm, Metromobile, National Car Rental, SouthWestern Bell, The Hartford Insurance Companies, and the Xerox Corporation. He has served on the boards of a variety of start-up firms, and his research has been published in many leading management and entrepreneurship journals, including Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Business Venturing, and Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal. He is in demand worldwide as a lecturer and collaborator and traveled to six continents last year on behalf of Rutgers and his work.
In the Professor’s Own Words
Is the study of entrepreneurship also valuable to students who plan more traditional careers?
Yes, for two primary reasons. First, entrepreneurship is both widespread and intermittent in the United States. Many people will spend part of their work lives as entrepreneurs and part of their work lives as employees. Second, the skills we focus on in entrepreneurship programs are equally useful for anyone who wants to be an agent of change in existing organizations. Many employers are saying that they want students who are good critical thinkers, who are good at promoting change, who are good at communicating their ideas and convincing others of their value. This is what we do in entrepreneurship.
What do you hope your students take away from working with you?
A belief in their own capacity to create organizations that allow them to become who they want to be by bringing about positive changes in the world. Much of the public education system in this country is still optimized for training people to be well-disciplined factory or office workers who are accustomed to working hard to support goals that someone else has set for them. Students are trained and prepared to compete for jobs, not to create organizations that reflect their own goals and values and generate good jobs in the process. Part of our job is to open students’ thinking to other possibilities. While much of our “skills” training is useful, taken as a whole, it is aimed at getting students to believe in a deep way in their own capacities for entrepreneurship.
What aspects of Rutgers’ programs in entrepreneurship are most personally satisfying?
Everything. I believe I have pretty much the best job in academics. Rutgers and the Farris Chair allow me to do cutting-edge research that I believe in. Our programs allow me to interact with and support some of the most interesting and worthy entrepreneurs I have ever met. Our incredibly diverse, motivated, and interesting students continue to stretch my thinking and reward me with new insights even after so many years of being involved in this stuff.
How do you think those programs might benefit society?
Our programs benefit society in all the ways we’ve become accustomed to thinking about entrepreneurship, especially through supporting innovation and job creation. But beyond this, the amazing span of our efforts at Rutgers broadens these benefits. Our research, teaching, and engagement with New Jersey communities range from helping previously incarcerated individuals rebuild their lives by starting and nurturing businesses, to helping members of disadvantaged communities get access to funding, to training and supporting social entrepreneurs who drive socioeconomic improvement in our urban areas, to helping our scientists and engineers—along with our STEM and other students—bring their outstanding discoveries to market through the commercialization of novel technologies. Rutgers has long attracted and infused students with the desire to be entrepreneurs, and our current students have even higher aspirations to make their way in the world through entrepreneurship. Our communities need the innovation, job creation, and positive change that entrepreneurs of all kinds can drive. Bringing together these aspirations and these needs is a noble goal for a public research university.
This story is part of Rutgers University Foundation’s Endowed Chairs Impact series. Supporting professorships and research helps spark innovation and creativity here in New Jersey and beyond.