Tag: entrepreneurship

Fostering an Innovation and Entrepreneurial Mindset at Tech

By Amy Karagiannakis

Michigan Tech has been awarded the VentureWell Faculty Grant in the amount of $22,800 for the proposal “Building a Curriculum that Fosters an Innovation & Entrepreneurial (I&E) Mindset for our First-year Students.” The Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship teamed up with Engineering Fundamentals and the School of Business and Economics (SBE) to develop a first-year curriculum that infuses design thinking methodology into Tech’s first-year engineering and business courses.

All engineering students at Tech are required to complete ENG1102, Engineering Modeling and Design in their first year and SBE offers BUS1100, Introduction to Business to their first-year students. Last Fall semester, working off a previously awarded grant, PIs Mary Raber, Mary Fraley, Brett Hamlin, and Amber Kemppainen piloted incorporating the design-thinking process into two sections of ENG1102. Concurrently, the team also worked with Jon Leinonen to incorporate a similar set of design-thinking modules in three sections of BUS1100.  Students in these courses were ultimately required to form teams and develop innovative solutions for a self-identified problem. Prior to being given a designated challenge however, students were introduced to design thinking methodology through a series of interactive workshops and activities. With the knowledge and concepts they learned, they could apply the phases of empathy, define, ideation, prototype, and test to developing solutions to their prescribed team challenges.

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Mary Fraley, Lecturer for Engineering Fundamentals reflected, “We learned in the pilot that including design thinking in a first-year engineering course was an effective way to introduce students to an entrepreneurial mindset. Through the development of an innovative product, students not only improved their critical thinking skills, but also developed an understanding of incorporating customer needs into their design. We look forward to refining this approach in the future.”

The new grant will allow Tech’s PIs to expand upon the Fall pilot, affording business and engineering students the opportunity to work together on innovative solutions to problems they identify. The goal is to refine the curriculum based on lessons learned from last Fall hoping to eventually introduce a permanent curricular offering. The new grant money will also enable Tech to train additional faculty in the design thinking and lean startup methodology through workshops facilitated by those who have completed Stanford’s Teaching and Learning Studio training, as well as Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad training. The team also plans to incorporate Tech’s new makerspace, the Alley, for prototyping and testing student design projects.

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Jon Leinonen, lecturer in the School of Business and Economics highlights the interdisciplinary teamwork that the VentureWell project provides as a point of distinction for Michigan Tech’s students, saying, “In this setting, students learn to apply business principles in a technical environment. This provides a foundation for more creative, feasible and rewarding outcomes when graduates step into industry.”Venturewell2

This collaborative project is lead by a team of faculty from the Innovative Center for Entrepreneurship, the Engineering Fundamentals Department and the School of Business. Mary Raber has experience with developing educational programming around Design Thinking, Lean Start-up and makerspaces. Mary Fraley, Brett Hamlin and Amber Kemppainen are instructors in the first-year engineering program and Jon Leinonen is a business instructor and I&E mentor. Together, this team will lead the efforts to continue to integrate design thinking and lean startup concepts into the core engineering fundamentals and business courses.

Mary Raber, co-director of the Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship and Assistant Dean of the Pavlis Honors College stated, “This grant from VentureWell will allow us to build upon the pilot conducted in Fall 2017 that introduced design thinking into first-year engineering and business courses.  Our goal is to give these students an opportunity to begin developing an innovation and entrepreneurial mindset while working together to create innovative solutions to problems of interest.”


Design Thinking and Makerspaces

By Mary Raber

If you’ve been hanging out around the Pavlis Honors College you’ve probably heard talk about Design Thinking and Makerspaces. And maybe you’re wondering, what are these things and why are they important?

As stated by Tom & David Kelley, co-founders of the product innovation company IDEO and authors of Creative Confidence, “Most people are born creative. As children, we revel in imaginary play, ask outlandish questions, draw blobs and call them dinosaurs. But over time, because of socialization and formal education, a lot of us start to stifle those impulses. We learn to be warier of judgment, more cautious, more analytical. The world seems to divide into “creatives” and “non-creatives,” and too many people consciously or unconsciously resign themselves to the latter category.”

Last fall, the Pavlis Honors College announced the creation of a new Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship (ICE), and as part of our mission we want to help Michigan Tech students, faculty and staff reclaim their “creative confidence.” Design thinking and makerspaces are two great tools that can help.

“Design Thinking is defined as a methodology and a mindset that draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be—and to create desired outcomes that match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity,” explains IDEO CEO, Tim Brown.

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It is an iterative process that starts with Empathy…understanding the needs and challenges of the people who might use the innovative ideas you are developing. By getting out and talking to people, you can learn a lot about their needs and challenges which can help ensure that you are focusing on the right problem. Then through ideation processes such as brainstorming, new ideas are generated. Simple prototypes of these ideas can be created with fast and inexpensive methods such as sketching, role playing, or building models using materials like post-it notes and pipe cleaners. These simple prototypes can then be used to gain valuable feedback by testing a physical model of your idea with prospective users. This allows you to determine whether you’re on the right track before you’ve invested too much time or money, or if you need to go back to a previous step to explore your idea further.

We now have a team of faculty and students (our University Innovation Fellows) who are trained in the design thinking process and are available to help others develop design-thinking skills through facilitated workshops and class sessions. The team has already been working hard to help infuse this process across campus and into the community.

You’ve probably also heard about our new makerspace, The Alley. Makerspaces are popping up all over the world and there are an estimated 400 makerspaces in the US alone. They are intended to be creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, collaborative, invent, tinker and learn using a variety of tools and materials. By all accounts, they are not just spaces, they are communities of people from all disciplines and backgrounds who enjoy making things. They encompass making in all forms, whether building with power tools, creating 3D printed prototypes, experimenting with cooking, or creating through more traditional art forms like sewing and painting.

Over the past year, a diverse team of students, faculty and staff have worked to convert the old bowling alley in the basement of the MUB to a really cool collaborative work space where members of the Michigan Tech community can bring their ideas to life.

In September, representatives of Milwaukee Tool came to campus to help facilitate a workbench building event. Milwaukee Tool is a strong supporter of The Alley and helped get the makerspace off the ground with a generous donation of tools. The Alley officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 25th, 2016.

The Alley is a student-led makerspace, with a team of Maker Coaches (student, faculty and staff volunteers) who staff the space, maintain the tools & equipment, train new users, and help to make it a safe place to work. It is open to the Michigan Tech community on Monday-Thursday from 3:00-9:00pm. For more info on the space, or how to get involved as a volunteer Maker Coach, check out The Alley’s website or Facebook page.

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