Innovation and entrepreneurship are more than buzzwords at Stanford. Whether it’s a class where students learn to launch the next product we can’t live without, or a hands-on experience on the front lines of a startup, entrepreneurship educational opportunities abound around us. The Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center of the School of Engineering, believes exposure to broad entrepreneurship skills unlocks the full potential of students with deep technical knowledge. And now STVP has a chance to drive this message across the nation.
On Monday, the National Science Foundation awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to STVP to launch a national center for teaching innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering, based at Stanford University. This new center addresses the nation’s critical need for greater numbers of innovative and entrepreneurial engineers. The project principal investigators include Stanford Professors Tom Byers, Kathleen Eisenhardt and Sheri Sheppard.
“This center is an opportunity for U.S. engineering educators to openly share knowledge about preparing students to be entrepreneurial leaders.”“This center is an opportunity for U.S. engineering educators to openly share knowledge about preparing students to be entrepreneurial leaders,” says Byers. “With the participation of faculty across America, the center will fundamentally change how engineers are educated in this country.”
The center, which launches operation in September 2011, will catalyze changes in undergraduate U.S. engineering programs by developing an education, research and outreach hub for the creation and sharing of resources among the almost 350 U.S. engineering schools. Fellow principal investigator Kathleen Eisenhardt takes the long view of the center’s influence on corporations and, ultimately, national economic growth.
“The hope is to link innovation-savvy students with revolutionary technology companies, and influence significant job creation.”“This grant can serve as a spark to ignite a social movement that reaches into the leading technology-based corporations and promising ventures of the country,” says Eisenhardt. “The hope is to link innovation-savvy students with revolutionary technology companies, and influence significant job creation.”
Connecting students with the best technology entrepreneurship minds is a key component of STVP’s courses, from a gateway course into entrepreneurship, such as the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar, to unique offerings such as the Mayfield Fellows Program.
“Entrepreneurship courses at Stanford have a great reputation for having an appropriate mix of theory and hands-on learning,” says Stanford student and Mayfield Fellow John Melas-Kyriazi. “The Mayfield Fellows Program is legendary on campus, and after several friends recommended MFP, it was too hard to resist applying.”
Melas-Kyriazi came to Stanford with the intention of being a classics major, however, after becoming fascinated by energy and climate change, he chose a more entrepreneurial direction.
“I came to believe strongly that the private sector has a central role to play in fighting our current energy crisis, and that startups are the most promising driver of innovation in clean technology,” says Melas-Kyriazi. “That’s why I chose to study engineering and entrepreneurship as an undergraduate.”
With the United States seeking to maintain its innovation edge, its of vital importance to develop more engineers and scientists who understand the value of business models, operational issues and product development. Direct exposure to these skills as an undergraduate has the power to change how a student sees their place in the world, according to Stanford alum Jessa Lee, who now works as a scientist at Pacific Biosciences.
“All these people were exposing you to something new, trying to broaden your perspective to understand how much more creative and innovative you can be, when you understand how the system works,” says Lee about her experience as a Mayfield Fellow in 2008. “It’s about seeing the bigger picture and getting a better sense of how my technical skillset can be put to use in an entrepreneurial context.”
Helping students to see these connections will be a major aim of the national center, which will actively engage participation by U.S. faculty and students. Part of his effort will be developing and delivering the center’s content across the US. STVP’s key partner on this initiative is the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). NCIIA Executive Director Phil Weilerstein sees real value in creating a center with such a dedicated focus.
“The need for innovation and entrepreneurial engineers is at an all-time high,” says Weilerstein. “NCIIA is looking forward to applying its expertise to helping universities build cultures of innovation on their campuses, and to supporting the entrepreneurial endeavors of engineering students and faculty.”
Based on evolving tools and techniques in engineering education, the center will provide U.S. engineering students and faculty with resources for curriculum, program and professional development.
“Hundreds of educators are already working to develop new programs addressing creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship as essential components in an engineering education,” says Dr. Tina Seelig, STVP’s executive director. “We look forward to gathering the most effective approaches and to sharing them with faculty and students across the country.”
The center’s efforts to deliver the latest research and insights into classrooms will not only benefit students, but will also allow participating faculty to leverage the center’s network to disseminate research on the efficacy of entrepreneurship education. This accelerated approach will also impact the future development of the center and its processes.
“This center will adopt the iterative approach powering the most successful startups in America,” says principal investigator Sheri Sheppard. “As our research explores how engineers develop the skills and mindset to bring ideas to life, what we learn can be immediately incorporated into the resources the center provides to students and faculty.”
In anchoring the center, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program will leverage its extensive experience in entrepreneurship education. STVP’s entrepreneurship and innovation courses are built upon a passionate commitment to experiential learning.
“Stanford’s willingness to throw open the doors to new ideas is very attractive to students and is an incredible opportunity for faculty who want to make a real impact.”“STVP’s approach embraces key ideas to unlocking entrepreneurship and innovation, such as learning to reduce barriers, understanding customers and developing scalable business models,” says serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, who serves as a Stanford adjunct faculty member. “Stanford’s willingness to throw open the doors to new ideas is very attractive to students and is an incredible opportunity for faculty who want to make a real impact.”
To augment NSF funding and provide additional real world experience, the center has also established a set of corporate partners, including some of the most innovative companies and venture capital firms in the United States, including Raytheon, Microsoft, MWH Global, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), Edison International, Accel Partners, the X-Prize Foundation and Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers. These partners will provide resources for curriculum development, dissemination tools and student access to industry mentors.
“Now is the best time for the creation of this center,” according to DFJ Partner Tim Draper. “Engineers are technical wizards, but their skills can be raised to new heights when infused with the drive and knowledge to turn ideas into the products and organizations that will shape our nation’s collective future.”