Asee peer logo

Assessment of a Cross-Disciplinary University Startup Accelerator

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Rebecca Komarek University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Rebecca Komarek is the Assistant Director of the Idea Forge at the University of Colorado Boulder. She also serves as the Managing Director of Catalyze CU, the university startup accelerator. She has taught topics such as educational research and leadership development and served as a design team advisor. She is also a PhD student in engineering education with a focus on engineering leadership development.

visit author page


Daniel Knight University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Daniel W. Knight is the Program Assessment and Research Associate at Design Center (DC) Colorado in CU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering and Applied Science. He holds a B.A. in psychology from Louisiana State University, an M.S. degree in industrial/organizational psychology and a Ph.D. degree in education, both from the University of Tennessee. Dr. Knight’s research interests are in the areas of retention, program evaluation and teamwork practices in engineering education. His current duties include assessment, team development and education research for DC Colorado's hands-on initiatives.

visit author page


Daria A. Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Daria Kotys-Schwartz is the Director of the Idea Forge—a flexible, cross-disciplinary design space at University of Colorado Boulder. She is also the Design Center Colorado Director of Undergraduate Programs and a Senior Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. She received B.S. and M.S degrees in mechanical engineering 
from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering student learning, retention, and student identity development within the context of engineering design. She is currently investigating the impact of cultural norms in an engineering classroom context, performing comparative studies between engineering education and professional design practices, examining holistic approaches to student retention, and exploring informal learning in engineering education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Innovation and entrepreneurship skills are important for young engineering graduates as they transition into the working world [1]. 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.

Komarek, R., & Knight, D., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A. (2016, June), Assessment of a Cross-Disciplinary University Startup Accelerator Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26326

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015