Anne York Brings Entrepreneurial Zeal to Creighton University

By Brian E. Clark

As a high school student in Missisippi, Anne York was encouraged by her father, an engineer who had become a vice president of finance for a power company, to consider a career in accounting.

And she seemed headed down that path when she earned her undergraduate degree in math from the University of Alabama. 

“But what I really wanted to do was teach literature at the college level,” says York, now an associate professor focusing on entrepreneurship and strategy at the Creighton University College of Business.

So she enrolled in a Victorian literature doctoral program at Northwestern University, but changed her mind when a downturn in the economy in the early 1970s diminished her chances of finding a college teaching job.

“None of my brilliant friends in the English department could find work and were going back to school to get their MBAs,” says York, who ended up earning a master’s degree in literature from Northwestern.

She taught high school math and English in Alabama and Mississippi for several years – just after public schools were desegregated in the South.

“It was an interesting and difficult but also very rewarding time, to say the least,” recalls York.

Switch to business
But when fate took her to Alaska, her career veered into the business world, where it has flourished ever since.

“I wanted a teaching job and I put in applications,” she says. “But in the meantime, I was hired by an oil company to do accounting and budgets.”

By the end of her five-year tenure with the oil firm, she had become a certified public accountant.

With both feet firmly planted in commerce, she returned to academia to get her doctorate in finance and strategy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That city is one anchor of the Research Triangle, an area known for its high-tech research and development. The other two cities are Raleigh and Durham.

Her first college-level teaching post was at the University of Washington, where she began to focus on entrepreneurship and technology.

“It was a very entrepreneurial environment,” says York, who was involved with a high-tech incubator project on campus and spent nearly five years in Seattle. During that time, she witnessed the explosive growth of Microsoft and other vitally important tech enterprises.

She returned to the UNC-Chapel Hill in 1995 and took a teaching post at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, where she remained for eight years. She also co-authored the book “Managing During Times of Disorder” during her time in North Carolina.

The move to Nebraska
But eventually her husband’s job pulled her westward to the Omaha area.

“Actually,” says York, “I commuted to Omaha the first two years of my marriage while my son finished high school in Chapel Hill and I remained on the UNC faculty.”

In July 2004, she moved to Nebraska full time and took a job with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she ran the Maverick Entrepreneurship Institute and worked with the Nebraska Medical Center and Peter Kiewit Institute. Ironically, she learned of the UNO opening from future Creighton colleagues.

“They were very kind to introduce me to people at the University of Nebraska,” she says.

Three years ago, she made the jump to Creighton University, after the arrival of Dean Anthony Hendrickson. At the time, the university had only one entrepreneurship course.

New programs at Creighton
Today, York heads the university’s beefed-up Entrepreneurship Program, which was launched in the fall of 2006. About the same time, she helped Creighton establish a chapter of the National Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization (C-E-O Club).
“It was hard to leave UNO, but my heart was really at Creighton,” she says. “It’s a great place to be, especially with its strength in the biosciences and its spirit of collaboration. Some 60 percent of our students are involved in science or health science, one way or another.”

In 2008, thanks to the efforts of York and others, Creighton received a three-year, $536,000 National Science Foundation Partnership for Innovation grant to fund the university’s Bioscience and Entrepreneurship Program (BEP). Creighton Intellectual Resources Management supported York in the grant application process, and continues to play a key role as a collaborator in the BEP.

The program trains undergraduate and grad students from law, science, business and medicine to collaborate to get research breakthroughs from the lab bench to the marketplace. In addition to Creighton, it also partners with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and is one of the few programs in the country that trains students from these varied disciplines in the process of technology commercialization in the biosciences. 

“With all of Creighton’s strengths, this seemed like a no-brainer,” she says. “I think the biosciences are going to boom in the next decade. If I were a student, I’d be really interested in this area.”

Professional Science Masters Degree
All along, York says she wanted BEP to be the “centerpiece” of what has become Creighton’s Professional Science Masters Degree in Bioscience Management. It is an interdisciplinary program offering graduate students and working professionals the chance to study the business of science.

“Basically, it’s an MBA for working scientists and others,” says York. The program is supported by the Sloan Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the National Council on Graduate Education. It launched this June.

The tireless York also has created what she calls a “social entrepreneurship” program for non-business majors to teach them how to start not-for-profit ventures.

“That’s been exciting to get going,” says York, who defines social entrepreneurship as doing something for humanity besides just making money.  “Profit is fine, but this is also for the overall good of people.”

York said the idea appealed to her, but “also makes a lot of sense because of Creighton’s mission” as a Jesuit teaching university.

“It’s what a lot of students care about, too, and that’s pretty cool,” she says, who notes that her 22-year-old son works for a nonprofit in Washington, D.C.