Imagine taking your idea from spark to reality to market in one year. That’s what students do in Lehigh’s new master’s of engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program. Working in studios and labs, students solve problems and develop ideas using creativity methods, then learn to prototype, test markets, form companies and launch businesses.
As they learn, the students explore their ideas and work on projects in teams whose members have diverse skills and interests. Applying new knowledge to their ideas and projects creates a dynamic learning experience and fuels the passion to create.
The 12-month program graduated its first class in May and of the new degree-holders, 56 percent have formed their own companies, while 37 percent have landed jobs.
Matthew Fuchs says the TE program answered a pull he felt while working in the manufacturing industry after earning his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Lehigh in 2011.
“I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Fuchs says. “I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to innovate and invent.” TE provided Fuchs with a place to try out his ideas and gain experience in hands-on product development and practical business formation. As a result, Fuchs started a product development company with two TE classmates after graduation.
“Being in an environment full of other people who are starting their own ventures—that pushes you more,” says company co-founder Katelyn Noderer, who earned a B.A. in design arts and psychology from Lehigh in 2009 and then served two years in the Peace Corps in Ukraine.
“I wanted to be able to combine those things—design and community involvement,” says Noderer. “To learn how to create a business plan and how to do the financials, and to learn about the kinds of things a regular design degree won’t give you. That’s what the TE program gave me.”
Open to applicants from any undergraduate major, the program graduated its first class of 14 students in May 2013 and then began educating its second cohort of 28 students. Students come from design and the engineering disciplines; from business majors such as accounting, finance and management; and from liberal arts majors such as journalism, political science, psychology and global studies.
“Innovations, whether new products or intellectual property, are emerging at the confluence of disciplines,” says Michael Lehman, professor of practice in the TE program. “TE is where students from different backgrounds who have a passion for innovating collide.”
The TE curriculum blends engineering and entrepreneurship, theory and practice, learning and doing, Lehman says. It is designed to encourage and apply students’ creativity, adds Marc de Vinck, the Dexter F. Baker Professor of Practice in Creativity.
“Creativity is just the stepping stone to innovation,” says de Vinck. “That’s what we need. We don’t need iteration. We need lifechanging and world-changing entrepreneurship to happen.” TE students have launched ventures and developed products in computer accessories, athletic equipment, fashion, community service, recreation, mobile applications, theater and home health.
While the program is a crucible for students to dream up and launch their own products and companies, it also provides valuable skills for those who want to work for small startups and large corporations, or to be service providers to companies in areas such as accounting and marketing. Recent graduates have landed jobs in construction management, transit technology, building products and pharmaceutical development. Chris Hajjar, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Lehigh in 2012, said his TE training helped him land his job with a drug delivery technologies company.
“The TE program helps you develop a broad spectrum of skills relating to different areas of business,” says Hajjar. “That made me an attractive candidate.
“Employers will see you as an asset if you can bring entrepreneurial skills and help build their company.”