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Implementing the Tech Startup Model: A Retrospective on Year One

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Division Technical Session 8

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Kevin Buffardi California State University, Chico

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Dr. Buffardi is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at California State University, Chico. After gaining industry experience as a usability and human factors engineering specialist, he earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Virginia Tech. His research concentrates on software engineering education, software testing, and eLearning tools.

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William Zamora Califonia State University, Chico

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William Zamora is a third-year undergraduate student at California State University, Chico and Research Assistant for the Chico STEM Connections Collaborative. He is majoring in Computer Information Systems with a minor in Computer Science. William's interests include Software Engineering and pursuing a career in academia.

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Colleen Robb California State University, Chico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Robb is an Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship at California State University, Chico. She also serves as the Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship.

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David Rahn California State University, Chico

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Mr. Rahn is a Lecturer for Strategy and Entrepreneurship and is the Director of the e-Incubator within the Center for entrepreneurship at California State University, Chico. Mr. Rahn has extensive industry background with software and consulting startups and specialized in new product and market development. Following his successful industry career Mr. Rahn transitioned to teaching strategy and entrepreneurship at Chico State. Over the past 16 years Mr. Rahn has developed the e-Incubator at Chico State, as well as created a course called Web-based entrepreneurship which focuses on helping students launch the online portion of their businesses using the Lean Startup approach. In 2016 he published "e-Business for Entrepreneurs," an online course for entrepreneurs building e-businesses.

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Software development is a high demand skill for the 21st century and consequently, many students in the computing disciplines pursue careers in software engineering. Software engineering courses often leverage experiential learning by assigning students to work in teams on software projects for the duration of an academic term. However, even when working on a project that lasts longer than traditional programming assignments, practices in industry diverge significantly from how students learn to develop software in the classroom. In particular, Agile Software Development is a popular approach in industry but students do not gain much, if any, exposure to Agile techniques and practices in classroom settings.

Agile focuses on delivering working software in short intervals and emphasizes working closely with customers and business people to continuously solicit feedback. Agile's incremental approach enables the engineering team to discover and adapt to changing requirements. Meanwhile, Lean Startup follows a similar framework that guides startup businesses to deliver minimum viable products to customers and leverage their feedback to adapt quickly and mitigate risk. Lean Startup has gained similar popularity for business startups as Agile has for software development.

Accordingly, a year ago, we proposed the Tech Startup model for teaching software engineering and entrepreneurship in parallel courses within undergraduate computer science and entrepreneurship programs. Entrepreneurship students learning Lean Startup partner with software engineering students, practicing Agile, to develop a unique, software product together as a technology startup. This paper reviews the structure and interaction between the classes, describes a mixed-method study of experiences and learning outcomes, and reflects over lessons learned from adopting the Tech Startup model for one year.

We found that during the pilot semester of the Tech Startup model, teams were often straying from the Agile practice of routinely holding combined, face-to-face meetings with both business people and developers. We describe interventions that resulted in more frequent interdisciplinary meetings in subsequent semesters. A comparison of post-semester surveys found that the improved adherence to Agile methods also correlated with students' stronger feelings of being held accountable.

In addition to discussing the survey's insights into student affect, this paper also discusses how to address the legal and logistical hurdles of continuing a Tech Startup project from one semester to the next. Extending the lifespan of a project may improve its likelihood of launching as an actual business and also provides software engineering students with important experience maintaining software. This paper compares the experience of students who maintain existing projects to those who begin new projects from scratch. In addition, we propose new interventions in the Tech Startup model to foster more realistic adherence to Agile and Lean Startup among interdisciplinary teams.

Buffardi, K., & Zamora, W., & Robb, C., & Rahn, D. (2018, June), Implementing the Tech Startup Model: A Retrospective on Year One Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30624

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