Tag: education

Boots to Briefcases: Veterans as Entrepreneurs

School of Business and Economics researcher hopes to help vets become entrepreneurs.

As one million veterans return to the American workforce, some will venture into entrepreneurial employment, either as leaders or team members. One Michigan Technological University professor wants to find out if there is a difference between their initial interest and overall success compared to the general population; then he wants to give them a hand.

Saurav Pathak, Rick and Jo Berquist assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in the School of Business and Economics, seeks to create a data set that will tell him how many returning veterans are going the entrepreneur route.

He’s aiming high, too.

President Barack Obama sent an encouraging response to his email request for support. No money came with it, but Pathak will continue to try to secure federal funds, especially given the administration’s Joining Forces initiative that seeks to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.

“I’ll first look at the skill set the veterans bring back with them,” he says. “There is some thought that the Air Force veterans have more technical background, for example, than Army or Navy veterans.”

Part of his research project, which is currently sponsored by the Michigan Tech Research Excellence Fund (REF), seeks to build more awareness and future connections between the Veteran’s Affairs Office, the University (including ROTC programs) and veterans themselves.

“These [REF] projects are funded as seed grants to help new faculty get their research programs underway,” says Dave Reed, vice president for research. “Typically, they are early stage or preliminary. Saurav’s work is a great example of these projects, and our faculty do a wonderful job of using results from these projects to leverage further funding.”

Pathak’s focus is on what hinders the veterans from beginning or succeeding as entrepreneurs.

“In Michigan alone, there are some 700,000 veterans,” he says. “And on campus there are about 90 veteran students and another 90 faculty and staff, mostly staff. If we can harness just a small percentage of them in a University center for entrepreneurship, we can help them succeed and propel Michigan Tech and the community into prominence at the same time.”

Pathak’s research grant expires in July 2013, so he wants to have the additional funding and a more defined project ready to launch by then.

“ROTC has shown great interest,” he says, “and we will be traveling to the Ishpeming, Marquette and Calumet Armories to talk about my work and see how much interest there really is.”

That’s one important component: actual data on numbers of veterans interested in entrepreneurship in the first place.

“I went to a veterans convention in Detroit, and there were 6,000 veterans there,” says Pathak. “We know that a lack of available resources hinders them, and we also think that there is difference between disabled veterans and those who are not.”

Disabled veterans are more likely to be working alone, he says. And many of the veterans seem to have been unaware of all the resources that are available to them.

“I don’t have the data set to completely verify this, but talking to veterans in Detroit, senior military people seem to be not as averse to taking risks,” Pathak observes. “Where junior officers are so used to taking orders that it might hinder them. Again, I need to do more research to verify these statements.”

Veterans’ well-being could affect their choices between necessity-based and opportunity-based entrepreneurship too, he says.

There has been previous research on entrepreneurship—for example, a Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics at the University of Michigan. But there is no study currently focusing on veterans in terms of entrepreneurship.

With or without help from the White House, Pathak seeks to understand veterans’ unique needs as they attempt to become entrepreneurs. Then, he hopes to help them succeed.

Learn more about Saurav Pathak.

Originally published on Michigan Tech News.

Michigan Tech MBA Students Cap Program with Trip to India’s Silicon Valley

MBA students Mike Vigrass and Holly Lehto at the pharmaceutical company Micro Labs Ltd. during their residency in Bangalore.

The nine students in Michigan Technological University’s MBA program returned from India with a new appreciation for how the rest of the world does business.

“We chose Bangalore because it’s the Silicon Valley of India,” said Jodie Filpus, who directs recruitment and admissions for the MBA program.

The online MBA program includes three residencies, during which the students leave their far-flung homes to meet in person with each other and their professors. Two residencies are held on the Michigan Tech campus. The third and final residency involves a week of international travel. “We do this so the students will be exposed to different cultures, as well as to introduce them to international businesses,” Filpus said.

It would be hard to imagine a city more different from Houghton than Bangalore. “It’s a very interesting place,” she said. “It’s beautiful in many respects, with its temples and palaces, and it’s so rich in history.” However, the population in the city of over 8 million has grown by over 65 percent in the last 10 years and its infrastructure hasn’t kept up, “so it gave me an appreciation for what we have here.”

Led by Assistant Professor Latha Poonamallee of the School of Business and Economics and accompanied by Filpus, the MBA students visited several different organizations, from a pharmaceutical manufacturer to a nonprofit that provides solar-energy-system financing for poor villages.

“It was my privilege to design and lead this international residency, which was a fitting culmination of a well-designed, innovative MBA program that put the School of Business and Economics on the map among top online MBA programs in the country,” Poonamallee said.

Visiting Bangalore: Mysore Palace During their trip to visit several Bangalore companies, MBA students also had a chance to tour the city. Pictured are Mike Vigrass and Holly Lehto at Mysore Palace.

During the spring semester, the students prepared for their trip by researching each of the companies and identifying a disruptive innovation to discuss with officials and offer potential solutions. Disruptive innovations are marketplace game-changers, such as iPods and cell phones, that upend earlier technologies.

Assistant Professor Andre Laplume taught them how. First they studied the companies’ products and strategies. “Then they proposed a new business for them to get into,” he said. “They described a new product, developed a rationale explaining why it should be adopted, and wrote an essay about it for their final exam.

“By the time they got to Bangalore and faced the company executives, they had something to bring to the table,” Laplume said. Not only was it a good opportunity to see how businesses function overseas, it also gave the students—most of them middle managers—a chance to display their skills before top-level executives.

Before traveling to Bangalore, student Holly Lehto had already put Tech’s MBA curriculum to good use. “Throughout the program I’ve been reaping the benefits,” she said. “A lot of concepts in the case studies are applicable to my day to day work.”

Her final exercise was to study the Bangalore-based market research firm Mu Sigma. “We talked about the possibility of going public, and we also discussed the possibility of capturing data from electrical transmission lines and selling it to clients,” said Lehto, a project manager for Allonhill, a Denver-based firm that provides due diligence and risk management services to the mortgage industry. “It was empowering to have the ear of these global executives, who were truly interested in hearing what we had to say.”

And there were revelations, said Mike Vigrass, manager of a natural gas compressor station with DT Energy-Michigan in Detroit. “I have traveled internationally, but not to India, and I was quite surprised at how much business was conducted in English,” he said. “At one of the site visits, we talked about the fact that India’s wages are going up, so that they are losing a competitive edge, and their answer was compelling. They said they think in English, which gives them an advantage over other emerging markets, where they have to translate the conversation.”

Another eye-opener was the visit with the nonprofit SELCO, which works to provide solar systems to the poor.  “I found that very interesting,” Vigrass said. “Among US corporations, it’s all about market share, getting bigger. For SELCO, it’s about meeting their customers’ expectations.”

Resource-stretched Bangalore has had trouble grappling with its own growth, he noted. “The population has exploded, and it’s hard for them to keep up their infrastructure.”

That culture shock did not take away from the trip, however. If anything, it made it even more worthwhile. “It was a very valuable experience, just to see how people in other parts of the world work and how they think,” Vigrass said.

Lehto agreed. “Both from a business and a cultural perspective, it was such an amazing trip,” she said.

Watch the Tech MBA Online India Residency in pictures


Learn more about the Tech MBA Online.

Working Together: Faculty Discuss Interdisciplinary Research

The most obvious question at Wednesday’s faculty panel discussing interdisciplinary research was also the first:

“Why?” asked moderator Dana Johnson, professor in the School of Business and Economics.

“Because it is fun,” said Associate Professor Nilufer Onder (CS). “And I gain clarity and great satisfaction by working within multiple fields, not just one.”

Professor Barry Solomon (SS) agreed, “I’m motivated to find innovative opportunities, and reductionist research as practiced by most single disciplines is too limiting and not as natural.”

Professor Ann Maclean (SFRES) cited examples where she has learned about different fields: geology, volcanology, biological sciences and environmental engineering.

Learning about other disciplines was just one reward, the panel concurred. Sometimes a little nudge is involved.

“We’ve been pushed together in some cases: electrical and mechanical engineering,” said Associate Professor Jeff Naber (ME-EM), and director of the Advanced Power Systems Research Center, which is interdisciplinary in nature. “That’s driven externally, to the benefit of both research and education.”

“People in other disciplines offer different perspectives,” said Assistant Professor Greg Graman (School of Business and Economics). “Considering trees, for example, as a commodity in a supply chain, has given me a different view of what I think I know a lot about.”

Maclean stressed the importance of applying research to the real world, “and we need to have the outcomes of various disciplines mesh together into a cohesive, workable solution. NSF and other external funding agencies are stressing interdisciplinary research. There are instances where a RFP [Request for Proposal] says you need this type of researcher, and I’ve picked up my Tech Directory and started looking.”

Associate Professor David Watkins (CEE) cited the institutes and centers that routinely bring faculty together, and Onder said working on a topic such as artificial intelligence is of great interest to students, too.

“I read Tech Today to see if there are any seminars that might have a topic for potential collaboration,” Graman said. “I’m looking for connections.”

The importance of working together wasn’t lost on the panelists.

Maclean said it broadens her research. Onder claimed that those not collaborating risk slipping behind. Watkins said his work becomes more applicable and more attractive to students.

Johnson sought any positive and negative experiences from the panel.

“It opens up funding opportunities and access to people and other resources on campus,” said Naber. “You gain access to hardware and instrumentation, and, with a higher functioning team, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

“It depends on who you are collaborating with,” Solomon said. “It varies, but does not always end up being positive.”

There are personalities to contend with, Naber agreed. That’s part of learning to work in a group.

“And people come and go,” Maclean added.

“Sometimes it’s semantics,” Watkins said. “The challenges of different languages in different fields. Even NSF once looked for a group that wasn’t ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘multidisciplinary,’ but ‘transdisciplinary,’ whatever that is.”

There are barriers, then, that the teamwork must overcome.

In addition to language, difficulties can arise from different statistical methodologies, not working in one’s field, and not necessarily having the same objectives. The panel also expressed concern that faculty may not be credited enough for interdisciplinary research.

“Junior faculty are looking for recognition,” Naber said. “They need to be rewarded. The credit needs to be shared, and they need to see that it is moving their careers forward.”

“How do you start doing interdisciplinary research and get funding?,” an audience member asked.

“Apply for a planning grant,” Maclean said. “We did that, met every week, were willing to see our original objectives change, and eventually our proposal was funded.”

A bigger question was, what to do in the long term, when there aren’t any funds, Naber said. “You look toward SFI [Sustainable Futures Institute] or involvement with directors of other institutes and centers. In Wood-To-Wheels, we are more focused, but we just haven’t gotten to that [long-term funding] level yet.”

Continual, long-term collaboration is important.

“With multiple team players, they can sometimes become too independent and not be viewed by the grant funders as ‘interdisciplinary research,'” Watkins said.

The panel offered advice to faculty, researchers and graduate students in attendance.

Be willing to do interdisciplinary research. Take classes outside of your field. Read more than your disciplinary studies. Review the topics at national and international society meetings to see what is being discussed. Network with your peers.

As for the future, Naber gave an example. “Intermodal transportation and electrical power generation will continue to merge,” he said. “And we are just at the beginning.”

“Sustainability will continue to be important,” Maclean said. “Almost every department on campus is already involved. The network is already built.”

And working together will become even more important. For example, Department of Energy grants nearly unanimously call for interdisciplinary research.

As the Tech researchers compete for their part of a continually shrinking pie, collaboration will be key.

by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor

Re-posted from Tech Today. See original article.

Michigan Tech Packs an ROI Punch

Michigan Tech ranked third in Michigan, based on ROI study done by Payscale.
Michigan Tech ranked third in Michigan, based on ROI study done by Payscale.

Michigan Technological University appeared in the top picks for a study done on the return on investment (ROI) of college education in Bloomberg Businessweek. In an effort to measure the value of a college degree, Payscale, a company that provides free salary reports based on job title, location, education, skills and experience, dug into over 1.4 million salary reports from individuals who used its online pay-comparison tools and calculated a 30-year net ROI for more than 500 schools.

According to the article, titled Best Bargain Colleges by Louis Lavelle on Bloomberg Businessweek, “It [ROI] represents the amount earned by graduates of each school beyond what a typical high school graduate would have earned, after deducting the cost of their education and taking into account the school’s six-year graduation rate.”

Michigan Tech ranked third compared to Michigan based institutions behind University of Michigan and Kettering University. According to the study, within the three-state area (Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) Michigan Tech has the second highest ROI of all public universities, for both in-state and out-of-state attendees. Overall the article ranked Michigan Tech 123 and 137 nationwide for both in-state and out-of-state ROI, respectively.

“Considering the cost of higher education, this information is very important when considering the college or university that will provide the best educational value for your future career,” said Dean Radson of the School of Business and Economics. “This supports what our alumni have said about the value of their Michigan Tech education.”