Engineering Innovation Center Brings Together Tools to Launch Future Entrepreneurs

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $10 million grant over five years to launch a national center based at Stanford University for teaching innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering. Directed by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford's School of Engineering, the new national center addresses the critical need for innovative and entrepreneurial engineers across the United States. STVP's key partner on this initiative is the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA).

The center, which begins operation in September 2011, will catalyze major changes in undergraduate engineering programs by developing an education, research and outreach hub for the creation, collection and sharing of innovation and entrepreneurship resources among the almost 350 engineering schools in the U.S. The center will actively engage participation by U.S. faculty and students in helping create the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs and conduct an on-going assessment to enhance its impact and reach. 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," says Byers. "With the participation of faculty across America, the center will fundamentally change how engineers are educated in this country."

The center is co-funded through NSF's directorate for Education and Human Resources and the directorate for Engineering.

"The objective is to create graduates who have deep engineering skills, as well as the ability to understand and design for end users," said EHR Program Director Don Millard. "In meeting the country's needs for innovators, we want to develop students who can work in and manage creative teams; communicate effectively and think critically; understand business basics; and be leaders who can solve open-ended problems."

"We want to catalyze a wave of change in undergraduate engineering education in the U.S.," said Engineering Deputy Division Director Sue Kemnitzer. "The new initiatives made possible through the center should inspire students across the country to envision possibilities and create viable and innovative products, services and processes for lasting positive economic and societal impact."

Collaboration is a key component of the center, as evidenced by STVP's partnership in developing the center with NCIIA. Leveraging their membership of nearly 200 universities across the U.S., NCIIA will be involved in developing, disseminating and delivering the center's offerings across the country. 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 Tina Seelig, STVP's executive director. "We look forward to gathering the most effective approaches and to sharing them with faculty and students across thecountry."

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.

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 the program's passionate commitment to experiential learning.

"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 established a set of corporate partners, including some of the most innovative companies and venture capital firms in the U.S., including Accel Partners; Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ); Edison International; IDEO; Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers; Microsoft; MWH Global; Raytheon; and the X-Prize Foundation. 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."

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