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Entrepreneurial Intentions and Actions of Engineering Graduates: What Contributes to Increased Intentions and Continued Entrepreneurial Skill Development?

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Christian Schnell Stanford University

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Christian is currently pursuing a Master in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Technical University of Munich (TUM). Within his studies he focuses on power engineering as well as automation and robotics. He is also a participant in the Entrepreneurial Qualification Program "Manage&More". This is an additional education at the Center for Innovation and Business Creation at the TU Munich (“UnternehmerTUM”), which supports Innovation and Start-Up projects. The focus is on practical, entrepreneurial skill development: Working in interdisciplinary teams on projects, the participants develop and implement business concepts to create innovative, marketable products and services. Each semester, 20 highly motivated students from all universities in Munich are selected for this 18-month program, which runs simultaneously to the studies.
For the last ten months Christian worked in the Open Innovation department of BMW, where he applied knowledge in the field of autonomous driving with his innovative mindset from the entrepreneurial program “Manage&More”.

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Johann Elmar Nordhus gen Westarp Technical University of Munich (TUM)

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Johann is currently finishing his Masters in Management & Technology at Technical University of Munich (TUM). During his studies he focused on Finance, Entrepreneurship and Mechanical Engineering. In 2018, Johann researched at the Designing Engineering Education (DEL) lab at Stanford University.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri D. Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on engineering education and work-practices, and applied finite element analysis. From 1999-2008 she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). In addition, in 2011 Dr. Sheppard was named as co-PI of a national NSF innovation center (Epicenter), and leads an NSF program at Stanford on summer research experiences for high school teachers. Her industry experiences includes engineering positions at Detroit's "Big Three:" Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, and Chrysler Corporation.

At Stanford she has served a chair of the faculty senate, and recently served as Associate Vice Provost for Graduate Education.

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Some engineering graduates want to be entrepreneurs. For this ambitious goal graduates need an additional professional skillset beyond their engineering knowledge by the time they start their entrepreneurial professional career. Within this paper we analyze the current entrepreneurial interest of engineering graduates and explore what they are currently doing to promote their entrepreneurial intensions. Furthermore, this paper investigates what entrepreneurs were already doing as students in order to gather the relevant skills for starting a venture. While previous research focuses more on entrepreneurial intensions within either engineering or business majors (Maresch, 2015), or on just intensions (Souitaris, 2006) by itself, this work bridges the gap between intensions and actual entrepreneurial actions.

The paper is based on qualitative semi-structured interviews of participants in the Engineering Majors Survey (EMS) . All 16 selected interviewees participated at least at two of the three nationally-representative, longitudinal Engineering Majors Surveys, which took place in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The EMS is a survey designed to explore engineering students’ technical, innovation, and entrepreneurial interests and experiences over time. The interviewees had relatively high entrepreneurial intentions compared to the average of all EMS participants. They also represent three equally big segments, which are characterized by people with increasing and decreasing entrepreneurial intensions, but also a group of people whose intensions remained constant during the surveys.

The open-ended interview questions were based on Flanagans’ (1954) critical incident method and enabled more follow-up questions in order to deepen the understanding of certain answers and situations. All interviews were recorded, transcripted and coded according to Corbin and Strauss’ (2008) inductive coding strategy. The analysis of the codes show students and young professionals appreciate the possibility of having an impact and taking responsibility while founding their own company. Furthermore financial independence as a self-employee is another motivating factor for a significant number of interviewees.

Schnell, C., & Nordhus gen Westarp, J. E., & Sheppard, S. (2019, June), Entrepreneurial Intentions and Actions of Engineering Graduates: What Contributes to Increased Intentions and Continued Entrepreneurial Skill Development? Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32755

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