Engineering and entrepreneurship. Some students might say that those sound like two different degrees if considered in a tertiary context. However, more and more educators and opinion makers are encouraging engineers to embrace entrepreneurship. MIT is the first to raise the concern of engineers without entrepreneurship skills. Therefore, they have launched a minor degree in Entrepreneurship & Innovation that engineers are encouraged to take so that they can maximise their potential in the world of entrepreneurship along with their engineering degree.
The Entrepreneurship & Innovation Minor (E&I Minor) educates students to serve as leaders in the innovation economy with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to develop, scale and deliver breakthrough solutions to real-world problems. They will be prepared to do so within a range of organizational contexts: an entreprenuerial startup of their own, as key members of a founding teams, or as an entrepreneurial member of a large organization.”
– Excerpt from MIT’s Innovation Initiative
The interesting part of the new minor MIT is offering, is that it is being taught by lecturers from MIT’s Schools of Engineering and Management, but is open to all students to take.
In an interview with a website named Bostinno, Steve Haraguchi, the executive director of Innovation Initiative said that students had reached out to the university, actively seeking out opportunities to study entrepreneurship at an undergraduate level.
Part of one of the modules in the undergraduate study is ‘Venture Engineering’. Haraguchi said it would be teaching students to see a business venture as a system, much like an engineer would. Making this course valuable to engineers as well, who have dealt with this sort of thinking already.
The Dean of the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) agrees that entrepreneurship is a key tool for engineers in the modern context. He says that companies that ensured a job for life – thirty years ago – are no longer holding on to employees as long. He admits that the situation is “dramatically different” in the modern context of being an engineer.
In the eleventh episode of the Engineering News Network: Entrepreneurship in engineering, Mackay gives a few tips to engineers, explaining why entrepreneurship is an invaluable addition to their skill set:
First of all, try and identify a gap in the market. It’s very hard to do that. Look for something where there is a real need, not something you think is required but what the market needs.
Second thing is, pick an activity that is aligned with you, in other words, what you want to do. If you are designing some wonderful thing to sell on the market, make sure you are passionate about it. If you’re not passionate about it or you hate what you’re doing with that particular product or service, believe me, you won’t sustain it.
Thirdly, you have to be persisent. Keep driving yourself, keep persisiting no matter how many kicks in the teeth you get, to get your product over the line. Most people will laugh and say this is a joke, but when you look at the most sucessful entrepreneurs, they were the ones who pushed themselves across to disbelieving clients and gained success.
Lastly, unfortunately, you have to fail. We fail nine out of ten times. Ten out of ten times in the endeavours we undertake. Failure is a key part of being a sucessful entrepreneur, so keep persisting.
In 2012, Krishna Uppuluri published a book named Engineer to Entrepreneur: The First Flight. The reviews for the book say it is, “good for first-time entrepreneurs,” in case you might need some encouragement and guidance on the big step of trying to start a business.
The book has some good ideas, but also has the main misconceptions that engineers have about entrepreneurship that Forbes Magazine summarized in 7 simple points that read:
1. Everyone loves ‘cool ideas’ and new technology
2. I need to go-it alone to assure quality and elegance
3. Marketing is fluff and selling is black magic
4. We need to get functionality maximized before we focus on customers
5. A good engineer hates unpreditability and risks
6. We can’t worry about making money until we get it built
7. Outside funding causes loss of control and undue pressure to deliver
Mackay also shares the sentiment that marketing needs to happen and enforces that it’s a misconception to think otherwise. He says, “Work hard at marketing. Market successfully, and that means thinking carefully about how to get your message across to your great, potential clients.”