By Emilee Cantrell
Engineering students are trained to solve real-world problems. With a growing global demand for innovation in all realms of life, faculty in the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University incorporates innovation in their curriculum and challenging students to think about consumer needs and product development.
Through a $10,000 grant from the Halliburton Foundation, College of Engineering faculty members attended a Lean LaunchPad for Educators course held January 22-24 at the University of California, Berkeley. The focus of the course was to teach them ways to incorporate innovation into their curricula by learning successful methods for new business start-ups from entrepreneurs.
“The Lean LaunchPad business model is very customer focused,” said Phillip DeLeon, NMSU electrical engineering professor who attended the training. Unlike the traditional business plan approach, the Lean Launch Pad encourages start-ups to create a business model “canvas” that they can adapt as needed to ensure they are developing products and services that customers actually want.
“There is a real push for our engineering students to understand the basic principles of entrepreneurship because our students have great potential to start their own businesses,” said DeLeon. “By exposing them to proven strategies, we might actually increase the number of entrepreneurial students who actually do.”
Rolfe Sassenfeld, assistant professor of engineering technology who also attended the training, said typically innovation is the engineer’s area of expertise and entrepreneurship is left to the businessperson, but often there is a disconnect between the two. Sassenfeld said when engineers come up with something that is merely innovative, they have trouble marketing it because they did not consider the value proposition from a customer’s standpoint.
“If engineers think about the value proposition while they’re innovating then what moves on to the entrepreneurship phase is going to be more successful,” Sassenfeld said.
As an expansion of this philosophy, the College of Engineering has teamed up with the College of Business to offer a multidisciplinary entrepreneurship minor that is expected to begin fall 2014. Luke Nogales, assistant professor of engineering technology, is piloting a new course this spring on Innovation and Product Development that will be part of the new minor. Sassenfeld and Jessica Houston, assistant professor of chemical engineering, who also attended the training at UC Berkeley, will be presenting an entrepreneurship workshop on Feb. 25 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Aggie Innovation Space Room 306 of the Ed and Harold Foreman Engineering Complex.
“I have a feeling there are a pretty good number of students who would like to start their own business, and I also would conjecture that many of them don’t know where to start,” DeLeon said. He and the other engineering faculty hope to use their Lean LaunchPad training to get students excited because now they have professors, teachers and mentors who can push them in the right direction, answer questions and give them confidence.
Houston emphasized that engineering students are not the only students who can benefit from the Lean LaunchPad training. “The skills that we impart upon engineering students are certainly open and applicable to the entire university,” she said.
DeLeon, Sassenfeld and Houston were joined by Engineering Physics Professor Stephen Kanim.
College of Engineering Assistant Dean Patricia Sullivan has been spearheading the entrepreneurship and innovation effort in engineering. Houston said that it started to take off when a group of faculty teamed with Sullivan to identify the focus for engineering in the innovation and entrepreneurship area.
“Engineering really serves as a catalyst for innovation,” DeLeon said.