UAB's Murphy talks UAB, Birmingham's entrepreneurship ecosystem



Dr. Patrick Murphy relocated with his family to Birmingham from Chicago on August 9, and since then has immersed himself in the city’s culture, specifically its thriving entrepreneurial scene.

Murphy is the new Goodrich Endowed Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Collat School of Business and has been an entrepreneurship professor for more than 15 years, most recently at DePaul University in Chicago. He has authored a book, speaks fluent Chinese and was the youngest harbor tugboat chief engineer in the Navy at age 19.

The Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) will work extensively with Murphy on several projects that will strengthen Birmingham’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The BBA sat down with him recently to talk about his goals and what drew him to Birmingham.

BBA: What does your new role entail?

Patrick Murphy: My work in this role entails three principal elements. First, to oversee and lead academic entrepreneurship offerings here at UAB that will be housed in the Collat School of Business. That includes courses, degree programs, training of entrepreneurs and research that we do on entrepreneurs and publish.

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The second pillar is engaging the Birmingham ecosystem in formal ways. Really great entrepreneurship programs always have a strong local footprint. We will develop courses around entrepreneurship in the city and do research and write about entrepreneurs and use the resources of the university to support them and do strategic outreach.

The third pillar overlaps with the first two, and that is trying to achieve a university-level focus on entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is one of the rare areas that is truly multi-disciplinary. Students in every program and every college across UAB have entrepreneurial interests. No matter what program, you’ll have individuals that like the idea of becoming entrepreneurs and there is an opportunity to reach them and spread entrepreneurship education across UAB outside of the School of Business and to other programs.

BBA: What drew you to this role and to Birmingham?

PM: The opportunity to lead and to make an impact. I’ve been an entrepreneurship professor for almost 16 years in Chicago. I developed and launched a lot of programs up there that made an impact on the entrepreneurship ecosystem. I was there when Chicago first started focusing on entrepreneurship, and I was a part of that growth and everything that occurred. It’s a big pond up there. My wife and I loved our life up there, but when we got the call from Birmingham – a search firm on behalf of UAB – I was immediately intrigued.

I knew Birmingham as one of the places that was revitalizing and growing in a very entrepreneurial way. I’ve had some experience where I’ve led a program that gained national and international recognition at a university in a big city. This was a chance to come somewhere and experience a new culture and make a greater impact by being a part of something so special here. That was very attractive. I learned more about UAB and the power of the medical school, the strength of the engineering program and all of the talent in the business school, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it.

BBA: Coming from Chicago, what did you know about Birmingham in regards to innovation and entrepreneurship before you arrived here?

PM: I had only heard about Birmingham being the largest city in Alabama. I had read some media reports about Rise of the Rest and a little bit of buzz, but I hadn’t heard very much. I am an amateur historian, so I am familiar with the longer history of the steel industry and the banking industry here. So, I only knew basic historic information and some buzz about the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem here. It wasn’t until I got the phone call and started looking more closely at what was happening here that I got more intrigued about the culture.

My wife and I are world travelers. I speak Chinese and I am very into deep cultural experiences. There is a powerful culture here, and we will really develop programs that are distinctly and inherently Birmingham based. That is the key to doing something world class. I am working very hard to learn the culture and to think globally but act locally. That is how to launch a program here.

BBA: You work for UAB, but how will your work there spill over into the city and region as a whole?

PM: We are going to develop a new approach to entrepreneurship here that formally embraces the Birmingham entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, we’ll go beyond having guest speakers. We do all of that already and it’s great.

Dr. Murphy, UAB colleagues and students, and Birmingham entrepreneurs meet at the Collat School of Business' weekly entrepreneurship networking gathering. The group meets Wednesdays at noon.

Dr. Murphy, UAB colleagues and students, and Birmingham entrepreneurs meet at the Collat School of Business' weekly entrepreneurship networking gathering. The group meets Wednesdays at noon.

We are designing a course project around specific Birmingham entrepreneurs. Imagine a semester-long course with 30 to 40 students, and there are four or five Birmingham entrepreneurial ventures that work with the class for the entire semester. The class is divided into teams, assigned to one of the ventures, and essentially does a consulting project that they can apply directly to the Birmingham entrepreneurial venture client. At the end of it all, we’ll have an event where students introduce the ventures, a problem the venture is facing and basically work for the venture. The venture will get the chance to talk about the venture and have a hand in evaluating the quality of students’ work. That will ensure relevance and make an impact on entrepreneurship in the Birmingham community.

BBA: What’s one fact we couldn’t tell about you just by looking at you?

PM: I speak Chinese, and when I go to China I don’t have to use English. I’ve been studying Chinese over 20 years now. I’ve done business in China for a long time. That’s related to our program here a little, as I want to internationalize the program. I am also a Navy veteran and was the youngest harbor tugboat chief engineer in the Navy at age 19.