An engineer creates a new photovoltaic cell that is 90 percent efficient. An entrepreneur hears about the breakthrough and partners with the engineer to sell the product and make money. Both individuals get a share of the profit, yet unfortunately at times the engineers who invent the product get a lower percentage of the split.
Don’t get excited, the photovoltaic breakthrough isn’t a reality yet. But empowering engineers to be able to take their own ideas from the lab to the marketplace just might be: A blossoming certificate program at the University of Colorado at Boulder wants to cut out the middleman in this scenario by turning engineers into entrepreneurs.
The Engineering Entrepreneurship Program, or E-ship, is an undergraduate certificate program founded in 2007 open to any student majoring in engineering looking to become familiar with the business world. The program’s objective is to introduce engineering students to business practices, allowing them to be more competitive in the marketplace and create more career opportunities.
Seth Murray, director of the E-Ship program, is an instructor for the program as well.
“Murray teaches the first course in the program,” Mickey Chianese, a junior in the program majoring in civil engineering, said. “He is very laid back and friendly. I liked his class style.”
Murray graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder and holds a master’s degree in engineering management. As a former business owner, Murray says the process of creating a business without a business background is amazingly difficult–a knowledge deficit that could be solved by the E-ship certificate.
“I wish it would have been offered when I was in school,” Murray said. “I started a business in 2001 and I had to learn everything the hard way about business.”
Chianese doesn’t want to have to learn the hard way.
“This certificate is good for all engineers, especially if you are an entrepreneur,” Chianese said. “If you are starting your own business it is useful to know the ins and outs and how to run the finances.
Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time teaching yourself after starting your own business.”
The E-ship program is composed of students from all engineering departments. According to Murray, enrollment is highest from the mechanical and civil departments.
“The main goal is to educate engineers in how engineering is part of a business and does not stand alone,” Murray said.
Chianese says the program is invaluable for those interested in business and the classes aren’t a huge departure from what engineers are used to.
“Business and engineering classes are not too far off from each other. Both are mostly math oriented, and engineers are really good at math–the only difference is learning the business strategy.”
While other students on campus who add a business certificate to their undergraduate degree are often overwhelmed by the amount of math involved, for engineers the math needed for business is slightly refreshing.
“Compared to the course work we usually take, it is not that difficult,” Chianese said. “The math we do is pretty is simple compared to engineering math, simple accounting stuff like adding and subtracting, but a lot of strategy stuff too.”
In addition to his E-ship certificate, Chianese is also working on the International Engineering Certificate for Spanish and hopes to work in Latin America for a time. He hopes his newfound business skills will get him there.
“I think an employer would definitely like to see that you have business skills,” Chianese said. “For example, I worked at a construction management firm, and in construction management you do a lot of business things, more so than you do actual engineering. Also, once you are out of college you will be part of a company, so it is a valuable skill set to have.”
Students usually begin E-ship coursework during the third year of their undergraduate career. However, there are only four 3-credit classes that students must complete for the certificate so it is possible to squeeze it into senior year with the right planning. Courses range from “Business Methods and Engineering Economics” to “Construction Management” and the certificate splits into two pathways for the capstone course. Students either choose to finish with a Engineering Management Certificate or an Engineering Entrepreneurship Certificate.
“Management is focused on leadership whereas entrepreneurship is more focused on the business side of operations,” Murray said.
The E-Ship program focuses not only on class work but also on showing young entrepreneurs how to manifest the ideas they have into a reality.
“What I try to do is, if you are an engineer with an idea, I speak with you and let you know what opportunities are out there. I call them entrepreneurship resources,” Murray said.
The E-Ship program works with other university programs on campus to coordinate events, workshops and other network opportunities. E-Ship, Silicon Flatirons, and the Business School Entrepreneurship Program work jointly to provide workshops for students from both schools.
“I try to find students and pair them with mentors so they can be successful in developing their business plan,” Murray said.
The Robert H. and Beverly A. Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business help make this certificate program possible. The center will celebrate its 30th birthday in 2014 and has plans to launch a cross-campus entrepreneurship certificate by then.
In order to sign up for the engineering entrepreneurship certificate a student should contact Seth Murray through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.