Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of UD's College of Engineering, said the college wants "to develop entrepreneurial skills in our students," adding, "We owe it to our students, our state and our nation."

Entrepreneurial ecosystem

Experts share success secrets at College of Engineering entrepreneurship conference

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9:24 a.m., March 5, 2014--Students, faculty and industry members gathered at the University of Delaware Feb. 22 to hear leading experts discuss the challenges and rewards of becoming an entrepreneur during a conference hosted by the College of Engineering.

Technology expert Charles Robins, managing partner of Fairmount Partners and a 35-year veteran entrepreneur, discussed how to analyze and position a new-market technology and design a fundable business plan. One key to success, he said, is to understand one’s funding audience, their perspectives, filters and language.

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“As an academic, your mindset is likely to be different from the venture capitalist you seek to inspire to invest,” Robins said. 

A business, he continued, is an offering that brings unique value with customers who can be reached and induced to buy. A business model must demonstrate how to deliver the offering at a profit, while also considering scalability and one’s market position. 

Ian Hughes, president of IP Legal Services, expanded on Robins’ message by providing an introduction to intellectual property, trademarks and patents, patent enforcement and the challenges associated with monetization. 

According to Babatunde Ogunnaike, dean of engineering, the conference is the first step in creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem that facilitates connections among students, faculty, staff, alumni, mentors, industrial partners, state partners and venture capitalists.

“In the future I believe there will be two kinds of engineering colleges, those that nurture entrepreneurship and those that do not. In UD’s College of Engineering, we want to develop entrepreneurial skills in our students. We owe it to our students, our state and our nation,” Ogunnaike said.

UD senior Anthony Rossi, a mechanical engineering major, called the conference inspiring and said he learned “more about product development and entrepreneurship than many in other schools do in a semester.”

“I am working on quite a few projects outside of classes (including the semi-finals in UD’s Hen Hatch Competition), and I see the College of Engineering’s new vision as a foundation for innovation amongst students, faculty and industry. I even hope to attend graduate school here so that I can continue being part of what I think will be well-remembered in UD history,” Rossi said.

A panel discussion following the keynote lectures highlighted factors considered critical in creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem — namely mentorship, resources and leadership. College campuses were said to be an important incubator for cultivating students with this type of mindset, but panelists agreed that challenges exist in providing adequate support and resources. 

Panelists pointed to available UD resources such as the Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships’ Spin In program and the Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, as well as to UD successes including the Delaware Technology Park, which has generated 16,000 jobs in Delaware over its 20-year lifespan.

Ogunnaike said he is eager to explore an “entrepreneur in residence” program, a topic he and others at UD hope to discuss with Gov. Jack Markell soon as entrepreneurial-minded graduates can open businesses, potentially leading to future jobs in the state.

Article by Karen B. Roberts

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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