Are Universities The New VCs?

The New Yorker has a piece on Stanford's StartX. They ask some interesting questions and end with this one:

If the university is a farm, do the students become the cows?

I have promoted this idea of becoming an early stage investor to a number of Universities and schools within Universities for some time now. It isn't the IP and patents that are held by Universities that interest me. It is the human capital that is inside of them.

Universities are organized to educate students and do cutting edge research. The byproduct of that is a lot of great ideas. In an era when the cost of a University education has gone up way faster than the value of it, we need new business models to sustain universities other than tuition increases, federally funded research, and the generosity of the alumni.

I think capital gains from equity investments in startups that are birthed inside universities is an interesting idea and I am glad to see Stanford and some other schools trying it out.  If Universities are the farms, I think students might be the farmers, not the cows.