ASU program teaches techies business, entrepreneurial process

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some of the leading innovators of the past decade have done a great deal to change the stereotype that engineers, programmers and other “techies” lack business acumen.

Consider Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Google’s Larry Page, all of whom started their careers with an interest in the technical side of things and ended up as icons in the business world.

Arizona State University’s Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program empowers techie students, including engineers, to generate new technologies, while teaching them business essentials.

The Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program is a co-branded degree between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the W. P. Carey School of Business.

The program offers students the business and technical acumen needed to excel in the startup landscape — as creators of new ventures or collaborators on growing startups — or as successful “intrapreneurs,” referring to thinkers who promote risk-taking and innovative product development and marketing approaches within large organizations.

Housed in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the program prompts engineers to consider new possibilities and applications for their technical studies.

Lecturer Aram Chomina-Chavez calls this pairing of engineering and entrepreneurial studies the “secret sauce” of the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program.

“Our program is grounded in a belief that innovators are everywhere,” said Chomina-Chavez, “especially at a university like ASU that is ranked number one in the country for innovation.”

Creation of a co-branded program

Started on the Polytechnic campus in 2010, the program became part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in 2015 when the College of Technology and Innovation became the Polytechnic School, the sixth school in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The program offers both a B.S. in Technological Entrepreneurship and Management, and an M.S. Tech. in Management of Technology. It also boasts an extensive undergraduate online degree program, with more than 700 students enrolled, including many working professionals.

In fall 2016, the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program revised its major map to include courses offered by the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“This collaboration with the W. P. Carey School of Business gives us greater outreach to complete the ecosystem of entrepreneurship for our students,” said Carolyn Hirata, a lecturer and program chair of the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management Program.

Entrepreneurially minded students can collaborate with other students in the Fulton Schools Startup Center, Startup Labs and Generator Labs, as well as participate in the W. P. Carey Center for Entrepreneurship. Students interested in technological research can conduct research in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative.

“Since we are housed in the Fulton Schools, access to engineers is readily available for our students making it a natural fit to teach business basics to technology-oriented entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Hirata.

Full-time students can apply and live in the Startup Village on the Polytechnic campus, a learning and living community composed of entrepreneurial-minded students.

“Already this year, seven students have moved from the Startup Village to continue to expand their ventures in larger workspaces,” said Hirata.  

An entrepreneurial process

In developing the program, faculty members envisioned developing a first-of-its-kind road map, known as the Startup Map, which provides the necessary curriculum and tools to commercialize and monetize students’ ideas.

“We’re taking innovators and their ideas and introducing them to an organized, systematic workflow and process — equipped with the tools they need to entreprenuarialize their innovations,” Chomina-Chavez said.

Each student uses the Startup Map as part of the bachelor’s degree program, with the possibility of taking their innovative idea all the way to the marketplace. They also use other startup tools such as VentureWell’s Lean LaunchPad and BMC products.

The road map boasts real-world curriculum enhanced by professors’ capabilities and expertise across a wide range of areas, including crowdfunding, beta development, capital structure, guerrilla marketing, international business, intellectual property, investments, social media and operations research.

ASU alumnus and startup entrepreneur Bret Larsen serves on the program’s advisory board and is the CEO and co-founder of eVisit, a telemedicine software connecting medical providers and patients.

“As a student today it’s far too easy to get through an undergraduate program without ever experiencing a day in the life of the chosen career path,” said Larsen.

He called the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program’s learning-by-doing approach “a meaningful differentiator.”

“This approach to learning and education produces individuals who are better prepared to have a meaningful impact on the organizations they join or start,” Larsen said.

Chomina-Chaves added, “Innovation is hard enough as it is. Giving our students a process makes their endeavor a little more digestible and improves outcomes.”

Students reap benefits

A handful of students have successfully completed the program with impressive results.

Gabe Kruse, a senior in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program, enrolled in the program to further an idea related to online gaming.

In the program he met software engineering student Aaron Pantoja, and together they created DuuL, a web-based platform where gamers of all skill levels can win money and prizes by playing their favorite games.

“Many of the methodologies we learned in the Technological Entrepreneurship and Management program were applicable to the process of building the company,” said Kruse.

Through the program, he and Pantoja built a working business model, established partnerships with Microsoft and PayPal and raised significant capital for their venture.

Another student group recently created MyDigital Backpack, which began as a software platform for students to build, organize and showcase projects. Currently, they are focusing their efforts on creating a tool called Syllabus Wiz, which coordinates syllabuses, assignments, quizzes and exam schedules all in one place.

“We have the advantage that we know what the students want and need to improve on in their studies, and we are essentially developing a tool to help ourselves and our classmates to succeed,” said team member Irelynn Black, a junior in the program.

The venture was one of 20 chosen in the 2016 Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative cohort, which offers up to $20,000 in seed funding; office space at SkySong, the Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center; mentorship; and training to advance their ventures.

“Every semester, we are amazed at the depth of innovation produced as a result of the program,” said Hirata. “Our students have designed dozens of innovative capstone projects that create value for new and existing companies.”

Career outlook for these student innovators is bright since small businesses and startups create the majority of new jobs in the U.S., and larger corporations are looking to hire individuals who can see the big picture and solve complex problems.

“Students from this program graduate with a degree from two of ASU’s most highly ranked and respected schools — and the tools to make amazing things happen on a global scale,” said Hirata.