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Engineering the Future for Entrepreneurs

Next week, I will have the honor of visiting Penn State as a Bishoff Entrepreneur-in-Residence and participating in several of the courses they provide for students who are studying engineering entrepreneurship as a minor. It’s an impressive program and these students will undoubtedly come out of it much better prepared than I was leaving college. I look forward to being a resource for them and I expect to learn a lot from the experience.

As I prepare material to present to them (some students whose homework it is to read this blog – hi!), I keep thinking back to the one “Engineering Entrepreneurship” course the University of Michigan had available that I took, and what I learned. The course was pivotal for me, and for my husband, who was a year ahead of me and took the course first. It’s also the only course binder we still have, twenty years later. That shows how meaningful it was for both of us, after collectively surviving more than a dozen startups in their various forms. Michigan now has an entire Center for Entrepreneurship, but that shows you how far we’ve come in two decades.

Time passes, technology changes, and the global economy keeps becoming more interconnected, but many principles of entrepreneurship stay the same. Ideas, innovation, leadership, organizational development, business management… these may change slightly in how we approach them; but in general, the act of being an entrepreneur and designing a framework for becoming successful at it require the same core skills. Newer programs like Penn State’s dive deeper into focus areas (in their case, called “clusters”) reflecting modern technologies, like digital media. This allows students to have an edge over the competition when they hit the job market, join a startup, or start their first company.

If I were to re-engineer my career as a serial entrepreneur, I’d start with a program like this one. The hardest part would be deciding which cluster to choose. But as with any major (or in this case, minor) endeavor, the value is in the journey, not the destination. These students can pick any starting point. The key is to jump in with energy and eyes wide open for possibilities. The future is in their hands.


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