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Lessons Learned in the Labyrinth: Navigating Campus Resources to Bring a Student and Faculty Smart Gardening Startup to Life

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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 7

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

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Paper Authors


Dustyn Roberts P.E. University of Delaware

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Dustyn Roberts received her B.S. in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University (2003), her M.S. in Biomechanics & Movement Science (2004) from the University of Delaware, and her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering (2014) from New York University. She has six years of professional experience in the robotics and medical fields and is passionate about translational research and engineering education.

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Trevor Scott Stephens University of Delaware

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Trevor is a Mechanical Engineering senior at University of Delaware, graduating in 2018. He is the CTO of Sage Smart Garden, LLC, a tech startup dedicated to bringing the smart home to your backyard. He has participated in several entrepreneurship programs, including UD’s VentureOn, VentureWell, and NSF I-Corps sites. He has extensive experience working on interdisciplinary team projects, ranging from commercial toy design to design and construction of a payload-delivering RC airplane.

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With the onset of the Bayh-Dole act in 1980, many universities established technology transfer offices to comply with the obligation to pursue intellectual property protection and commercialization. More recently, universities have established entrepreneurship centers that offer everything from academic programs to proof of concept funds to help students and faculty create value based on their ideas. Additionally, each state has a government-funded Small Business Development Center that provides free business consulting and low-cost training services. The Small Business Development Center is often located at or near a university, and often works closely with the corresponding university technology transfer office and/or the entrepreneurship center. While access to all of these resources is a benefit of being a part of the university ecosystem, it is often difficult to know where to start. Additional complications arise when faculty and undergraduate students, who are typically governed by different intellectual property policies, form a joint venture.

This paper is written as a case study to describe the process of forming a startup by one such faculty and student team. The smart gardening technology being developed utilized a range of resources offered at the university. It enabled student learning through completion of sub-projects during summer research, internship, and technical electives. The system itself addresses sustainability since enabling more efficient use of resources for gardening reduces water consumption and aids in stormwater management. Finally, it covers strategies that other faculty and student teams in the same situation might follow to help them climb the entrepreneurship learning curve faster than we did.

Roberts, D., & Stephens, T. S. (2018, June), Lessons Learned in the Labyrinth: Navigating Campus Resources to Bring a Student and Faculty Smart Gardening Startup to Life Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

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