June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation
12.681.1 - 12.681.12
Entrepreneurship via Multidisciplinary Product Development Introduction
Engineering and computer-science students in senior-level design courses often have strong entrepreneurial interests. These students want to develop their design projects into commercial products. One venue for commercializing design at our institution, Grove City College (GCC), is the annual on-campus business plan competition. For the last four years, business and entrepreneurship students often partner in writing a business plan. Students received written feedback from practicing technology entrepreneurs on their plans. That students report the competition as a favorable experience fostered the idea for what we called the High Tech Venture Start-up course.
The business plan competition, however, lacked several essential elements to be a fully integrated and maximally valuable educational experience. As important as business-plan writing may be, we believe that it is a limited view of entrepreneurship, particularly for our engineering and computer science students1. The competition focuses attention on financial and marketing issues after the product has been designed. A more realistic perspective, and one that appears to be of greater interest to the engineering students, is to design a product from scratch while working under marketing and financial constraints, working with customers to understand both their needs and the conditions under which the product will be used, understanding the engineering and production constraints induced by a manufacturing plant, and so forth. In addition, the students gain experience with a multidisciplinary team, where engineering, computer science and business expertise is needed for a successful product. And, it provides an unparalleled opportunity for business/entrepreneurship students to understand the intricacies of the design process2.
All these functions—multidisciplinary product design with entrepreneurial experience—are brought together in a course we recently designed and delivered. The course involved four mechanical engineering students, three computer-science students, and three entrepreneurship students in a two-semester course sequence. These students worked closely with a local engineering and manufacturing company, Pine Instruments, to develop a product to automatically measure and qualify aggregate for asphalt and concrete. This highly technical product posed interesting mechanical and computer-science problems, while giving the business students the chance to study a business-to-business industrial market. The course started with a semester of product planning (roughly one credit hour) followed by a three-credit hour course of lectures and product development. During both terms, the students worked closely with the company, getting access to market, financial, engineering, and customer information, just as they would if they worked for the company.
We learned a great deal about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching entrepreneurship using this approach. The students gained great appreciation for both the difficulty of getting a product out the door (they completed only a rough prototype) and the complexities of markets and understanding customer needs. They also learned to appreciate each other’s disciplines. There were problems, however. It was difficult to get the students to work together (we call it the junior-high dance syndrome), the students tended to over optimize their components without regard for the product as a whole, and they did not fully appreciate the constraints of working
Birmingham, W., & Allison, B., & Dupree, J. (2007, June), Entrepreneurship Via Multidisciplinary Product Development Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2385
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