New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation
Innovation and entrepreneurship skills are important for young engineering graduates as they transition into the working world . Yet, formal curriculum in engineering provides little in the way of training in this area. To serve this gap, a range of informal education opportunities have cropped up in engineering curricula to provide learning opportunities for engineering students who want to learn to innovate. One such opportunity is the university startup accelerator.
This paper provides a curricular description and evaluation of the university startup accelerator Accelerator Name, held at the University during the summer of 2015. This annual intensive, 9-week program provides interdisciplinary, university-affiliated business startups with equity-free grants, mentorship, workspace, and prototyping capabilities. The program culminates in an expo event known as Demo Day where companies give their business pitches to the local entrepreneurial community. The 2015 cohort consisted of 25 students, representing majors from various engineering departments, applied math, economics, accounting and marketing. Four of the eight participating teams produced physical prototypes and six of the eight teams had engineering student members or recent alumni.
Accelerator Name is modeled after professional startup accelerators in the entrepreneurial community, and enhanced by best practices from university accelerators across the country. A mentorship based approach is central to the Accelerator Name framework. The nine-week program was structured around individualized team support via mentoring meetings from startup experts, consultation support from external entities, and feedback from other teams participating in the program. The program facilitators held weekly accountability meetings with each team, providing a unique set of goals and objectives for each individual company. In addition, the program provided workshops, scheduled office hours with mentors, and social events. Finally, the teams participated in weekly pitch practices with an evolving population of community and academic mentors and support personnel present to give fresh feedback.
Assessment of this program focused on five goals related to entrepreneurial and educational programs: 1. Recruit a pool of high quality early stage startup companies for a 9 week summer accelerator program 2. Provide individualized team support for company teams to build their business model 3. Connect companies with an established network of mentors to provide team support 4. Organize a series of events to build skills across teams and connect stakeholders 5. Track team development through an assessment plan with metrics for success
An assessment specialist facilitated the program assessment including a pre-survey, post-survey, and mid-point focus group. All survey questions used a one-to-five Likert-type scale with a 3.5/5 (70%) designated as the cutoff for evaluating success. Initial results demonstrated successes and suggestions for improvement across all goals. For successes, the post assessment revealed that 85% of participates said they would recommend Accelerator Name to other University student teams. In addition, students were supportive of the weekly pitch practices with a rating of 4.38/5. One student commented, “Our pitch went from ‘meh’ to awesome, pitch practices get an A.”
Various suggestions were provided during the assessment to improve the program for subsequent years. The program can improve by better preparing teams with sound business practices such as financials, a stronger effort to involve the engaged local entrepreneurial community, and an improved effort in coaching teams how to assess their own projects. The suggestions will be improved upon in the next offering of the program in summer 2016.
Reference 1. Sheppard SD, Sullivan WM, Macatangay K, Colby A. 2008. Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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