“Entrepreneurial Mindsets” are growing feature of Rose-Hulman

DSC_0250Innovation and entrepreneurship are growing at Rose-Hulman.  In October, RISE, the student entrepreneurship organization, had about 200 students get up early on a Saturday to spend most of the day at StartUp! Rose-Hulman.  This month, 70 students volunteered for an extracurricular case study class with Felda Hardymon (RH ’69) who has a dual career as global venture capitalist and entrepreneurship professor at Harvard Business School.  For these students, learning how to use their knowledge of technology to have real impact is fun.

Peter Drucker has defined innovation as exploiting change.  My favorite definition of entrepreneurship is combining or recombining resources in innovative and valuable ways.  The concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship are closely related, and the increasingly entrepreneurial mindset demonstrated by Rose-Hulman students lately shows that many of them understand the inevitability of change and the opportunities for them in innovation.

Interest in doing exciting things is certainly not new at Rose-Hulman.  For over a decade, hundreds of students have worked each year on projects at Rose-Hulman Ventures, other projects aimed at producing tangible value for external clients have been part of the academic requirements of a number of departments for an even longer period and the Branam Innovation Center is full of students doing amazing things for the joy of creating.  Building concrete canoes, solar and other nationally competitive race cars, and other technical projects are among the co-curricular activities that many alumni look back on fondly as part of their Rose-Hulman experience.  However, the interest in entrepreneurship goes beyond the excitement of figuring out how to respond to produce cool technology.  Students are learning how to create the sustainable value that will meet important needs and provide jobs and prosperity for them and their world.

Rose-Hulman graduates have always been great problem solvers.  The entrepreneurial mindset adds skills in defining the most important problems and executing solutions that produce continuing value.  This will be crucial for them in their careers.  Alumni recognize this need for them and have responded generously by offering, like Felda Hardymon and the panelists at StartUp! Rose-Hulman, to share their experiences.  They bring not only role models for students to emulate, but practical advice on what it takes to transform ideas into successes. For example, Jeff Ready waving his phone and describing its business importance is far more effective in persuading students to get close to customers and their needs than anything any book or class can do.  Hopefully, more alumni will inform us of their successes and lessons learned so we can compile and communicate them to students.

About the Author:

Tom Mason
Tom Mason, Ph.D.

Tom Mason is Professor Emeritus of Economics and Engineering Management at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology where he has been teaching since 1972. He was founding Head of the Engineering Management Department and its M.S. degree program and founding Vice President for Entrepreneurship & Business Planning of Rose-Hulman Ventures and has also served Rose-Hulman as Head of Humanities and Social Sciences, Vice-President for Administration and Finance, Head of Engineering Management, and Interim Vice President for Development. While on a three-year leave from Rose-Hulman, Tom served as CFO and CEO of a 140-person network management systems business. In 2007-08, he used his sabbatical to study entrepreneurship in Indiana and assist start-ups as Educator/Entrepreneur in Residence at Indiana Venture Center. He has been advisor/director for several high tech firms and has been involved in national efforts to integrate entrepreneurship and engineering education. Since his retirement from full time teaching, Tom has co-authored an updated edition of Forecasting and Management of Technology, teaches part-time, continues his research and writing on innovation and entrepreneurship and works in an advisory capacity with several emerging firms.

Dr. Mason received his PhD in economics from the University of Pittsburgh and his BA in economics from Geneva College.

Innovation by Garage

The Branam Innovation Center (BIC) was conceived to support and enhance key themes at the heart of innovation: collaboration, teamwork, prototyping, development, adopting the latest technology and pushing it forward.

“First, the building was designed in an open concept with no walls between teams,” said Dean of Innovation and Engagement Dr. William Kline. “The only separation between them is the black and yellow tape line on the floor.”

Recently named for the late Rose-Hulman President Matt Branam, who strongly supported innovation programs and championed the building, the BIC is 16,000 square feet of lifts, tools, parts, workshops, and test equipment. Beneath team banners and surrounded by the historic hulls of vehicular victors past, the BIC houses eight student competition teams involving over 200 students. As competitive benchmarks approach, the Center is a bustle of team-based activities, and the open design fosters excitement and interaction between teams. State-of-the-art resources, from software to testing devices, speed students along in their prototyping and development processes as they rapidly build and test ideas. The competitions themselves come with limits, requirements and challenges that forge development acumen from raw ingenuity while encouraging creative uses of the latest technology.

“Through these competition team experiences,” Kline said, “students apply their technical skills and learn teamwork, communication, project management, and solving complex problems within technology, budget, and schedule constraints. These are great professional practice experiences for students and are highly valuable during the job search process.”

Kline recalls the BIC’s grand opening a year ago: “Trustee David Hannum humorously referred to the Center as a ‘garage,’ adding that cool things happen in a garage. He was right about cool things happening.”

From California to Pennsylvania to “home turf” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Rose-Hulman teams, often competing against larger schools with heavy graduate student involvement, have been remarkably successful.

“And that’s another important theme of innovation: ‘anyone can play’” Kline adds. “Being innovative does not take a big capital investment or years of experience. A garage can become an effective innovation center, and has, at our Branam Innovation Center.”


William Kline, Ph.D.

Bill Kline received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois. In addition to his teaching experience at the University of Illinois in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, he served for many years as chief operating officer of an automated machine tool system company which he co-founded. He brings experience in manufacturing, systems and operations. He has several technical publications in refereed journals, technical conferences, trade journals or textbooks relating to machining process modeling or machine tool sensing, monitoring and diagnostics.

An Innovation “Unconference” in the High Sierras

Prototyping an Innovation Canvas

“The design, innovation, and entrepreneurship processes … are anything but structured  with jumps, loops, roadblocks, and pivots.” – Dr. William Kline, Dean of Innovation and Engagement

Epicenter Retreat 2012

What happens when over 60 of the leading educators and scholars in the fields of entrepreneurship and innovation come together in a setting of spectacular scenery and opportunity for reflection and collaboration?  The Stanford Epicenter program hosted a two and a half day conference focused on advances in entrepreneurship and innovation education, and I had the very good fortune to attend. (Photos)

In an ‘unconference’ format at the Stanford Sierra Camp at South Lake Tahoe, the gathering was led through exercises to build collegiality and to identify topics of interest to advance the effectiveness of undergraduate education in entrepreneurship and innovation.  As the workshop progressed, working groups formed around topics of interest and converged on sharing ideas and developing prototypes to illustrate their ideas.  It all culminated on the final evening with inspiring presentations by each team to the assembled group on topics ranging from online courses to dealing with ABET.

A model for bringing technical and business thinkers together

My group of two was small but mighty and focused on developing an ‘innovation canvas’ to use as a teaching tool in entrepreneurship and innovation courses.  My partner was Cory Hixson, graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech.   Before the conference at Rose-Hulman, a small faculty working group has considered the idea of a ‘design canvas’ and the collaboration time with Cory provided the opportunity to expand and develop the concept.

The inspiration for the work is the ‘business model canvas’ from the popular text Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.  The canvas provides a unique approach to developing the case for a new business opportunity by presenting the key themes to consider in a canvas concept which encourages a team approach to sequential and simultaneous thinking as new information is added to the canvas.  The canvas concept is a great teaching tool so why not develop a canvas for the larger problem of getting from initial concept to business model.

The real insight of the canvas concept comes from the fact that the design, innovation, and entrepreneurship processes are often modeled as step by step processes, chapter outlines, or some other structured format.  In reality, the processes are anything but structured with jumps, loops, roadblocks, pivots. And success (or failure) is often reached in mysterious ways though a team approach and simultaneously considering a broad range of issues.  The canvas encourages the team approach, and it opens up the traditional modeling process to accommodate both sequential and simultaneous consideration of key themes.

“We began with the business model canvass shown in the lower right quadrant of our model, and added the three new areas.” (This is a 2D representation of a 3D interactive graphic.)

Over the span of a morning working session, Cory and I developed a prototype for an ‘Innovation Canvas’ to capture the technical and business process of going from concept and opportunity recognition to developing the business case for the idea.  Cory is a Prezi whiz and whipped up a great presentation in about 30 minutes to capture the key thoughts.  We sketched a round canvas with ‘value’ at the center, as value creation is a fundamental measure of success or failure.  We landed on four main phases (rendered as quadrants): concept, innovate, design, and business model. We took the Osterwalder/Pigneur business model canvas, as-is, and used it for our fourth (“business model”) quadrant. Then we set about identifying the key themes to consider in each phase. The key themes were detailed as puzzle pieces in each of the four quadrants.

Of course, it would take more time and work to fill in the blanks, developing the useful ideas of our prototype sketches to arrive at a model we could test in the classroom. But already I could envision a technical and a business person standing in front of the canvas and each making contributions to filling in the canvas for a new venture.

So what’s next?

At the close of the conference we were encouraged to continue working on our ideas and prototypes.  Cory and I intend to continue working on the Innovation Canvas concept and in addition to the Rose-Hulman working group, several of our colleagues at the conference from Bradley, Olin, Saint Louis University, and Arizona State also indicated an interest in supporting the effort as well.  Several have used the business model canvas in their classes. In the spirit of innovation and taking a team approach, it will be great to have the insights and experience of a diverse group aimed at further development.

Where will it end up?

Who knows, but stay tuned.  The business model canvas concept is red hot these days. It is certain that others are working on the same concept of an expanded canvas for the innovation and design phases and we may be scooped by them.  Let’s see if our group can advance the idea, share ideas along the way, and maybe publish results in a paper or two for all to build upon.

Business Model Generation on Amazon

Say No to Cracks

“Not everything innovative has to be complicated!” says Rose-Hulman’s Interim Chemical Engineering department chair Dr. Adam Nolte. His recent discovery, along with Dr. Daeyeon Lee, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, may impact the future of battery technology and the broader area of energy conversion and storage, as well as lower costs in technologies that involve the structural manipulation of light, such as anti-reflection coatings for eyewear.  Their work was published this month in the journal Nano Letters.

A new method utilizing subsequent depositions of thin crack-free nanoparticle layers is demonstrated to avoid the formation of cracks within silica nanoparticle films. Using this method, films can be assembled with thicknesses exceeding the critical cracking values. Reprinted with permission from Avoiding Cracks in Nanoparticle Films. Copyright Sept. 1, 2012 American Chemical Society.

Read a more in-depth summary of the Lee/Nolte research in the article “Just Say No to Cracks.”

“This work was inspired in part by idea exchange between Prof. Lee and myself,” Nolte explains. “I was working with Chemical Engineering students to design anti-reflection coatings from particles, and Prof. Lee is interested generally in the concept of nanoparticle films.  We began trading ideas about how particle films could be incrementally constructed by spin-coating deposition since a thin layer of particles would not redissolve when new layers were put on top of it (which is a problem with polymer films, which Prof. Lee and I also both work with).”

The typical method for creating crack-free particle coatings is to deposit a single thick layer with added binders or to use complicated drying techniques; however, these methods can change the chemistry of the coating and add cost and production complexity. The innovation in the Lee/Nolte research — creating a thicker layer by adding many thin layers one on top of another — was not only a simple shift, but it led to new discoveries about the properties of these films, which may have additional,  far-reaching consequences. The team discovered, in addition to the fact that the layer would not re-dissolve when other layers were added, that a layered film is more resistant to cracking at thicknesses where conventional particle films will crack apart like a desert wadi.

“This is an example of trying something really simple and having it work,” Nolte says. “We essentially found that building a nanoparticle film in ‘baby steps’ instead of depositing the whole thing at once can delay the onset of cracking, and potentially provide a more useful product.  I think it is a good example that innovative thinking can happen by approaching a problem from simple but clever angles.”

Nolte’s story is also an example of how engineering faculty, with a key imperative to provide undergraduate research opportunities, find a nice balance between teaching and  being on the leading edge of discovery. Nolte gained ideas while working with students, and students gain a front row seat on the marathon of steps leading from idea to the development of new technologies.

New Idea Behind Heart Pump

Recently, @PopSci posted an article on a new idea behind the heart pump. To get a better understanding of the prototype, we’ve attached the video from the article.

After the jump, we’ll have comments from our professors.

Dr. Lee Waite, Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering said, “it is an interesting concept. Sometimes ideas like this one spur new research and development. However, the road from concept to prototype is a long and difficult one – particularly in the medical device industry.”

What are your thoughts on using a ferrofluid as an artificial heart?

What does Innovation Look Like in Civil Engineering?

According to Civil Engineering department head Dr. Kevin Sutterer, innovations in civil engineering happen every day, as just part of getting the job done. Putting up a wind farm? Someone has to engineer a process for getting all those rotor assemblies onto the site and in place. Leakage in an embankment dam? Call in a ground specialist. Every site is different and every site and project requires innovative solutions.

Dr. Sutterer regularly receives pictures and communications from colleagues in the field illustrating unique problems and “once-and-done” innovative solutions. For example, specialty geotechnical construction companies may be called on to work on large dam projects with seepage and internal erosion. This is where innovation begins. “They need to adapt the tools and equipment for the drilling and grouting in the rock; and must work out how to monitor the success of the grouting process.” According to Sutterer, civil engineers may have to innovate on every job, especially when planning construction solutions. “Sometimes they just fabricate the tools and techniques in their shop or on site. Whatever it takes to get the job done safely and efficiently guides the solution. Sometimes the process is iterative. They may try it in a safe way; learn what works best as they go, and get it done by observing the performance of the solution. It’s really very innovative because it’s some new technique every time.” But because every situation is unique, the civil engineer’s innovations are not prone to mass-production and often are never publicized or evident to the public. “The job is completed quickly and safely, so, like the repair of a dam, the solution is completed, and the technique used may never be used again,” Sutterer says.

Sutterer also talks about the fact that many civil engineering innovations are literally hidden under the surface. He cites the example of the Petronas Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“The ground beneath the originally planned footprint of the towers was highly irregular, so the towers were relocated to reduce the variability. Even then, there were differences beneath the foundation materials. And so these two towers are side by side and they’re connected to each other. When the foundation depth and character of the rock varies from one to the other, there is a risk they’re going to move relative to each other and you’ll have problems with the connections between the buildings. And so they have to be either on similar ground conditions or feature a foundation structure that accounts for the differences. So they’ll bring in a specialty geotechnical company who will basically create a foundation for both towers that causes them to move the same way.”

Sutterer makes the point that the underground ingenuity of these awe-inspiring structures isn’t often recognized by admiring tourists.

“Had it not been for the engineer building the foundation – which is underground – those buildings couldn’t have been built.” He also says that no one is likely to ever face that exact situation again.

Examples of innovation by civil engineers abound, according to Sutterer. “Even on the Rose-Hulman campus, before Rose Poly was founded, Lost Creek had been straightened to facilitate the agricultural usage at that time. The old Lost Creek channel was filled in when the creek was straightened. In the 1990’s, our Sports and Recreation Center was built over that old filled in channel. The people who originally filled in the channel weren’t trying to create great ground conditions; they just wanted to fill it in. When they built the SRC, they found that soft fill, not to mention the surrounding soft creek deposits, and extended deep foundations down to the rock, 60 or 70 feet deep. This was needed to make the SRC a structure that doesn’t settle and crack.”

Building Empirical Feedback into Designs for Innovative Classrooms

This Video classroom is one of five newly renovated spaces designed with help from faculty keeping the optimum learning experience in mind.


360 Magazine has devoted a whole issue to “Rethinking Higher Education Spaces.” According to an article called “Lessons Learned,” the first lesson in creating innovative college classrooms is to pay attention to the people using the rooms: “Higher education spaces, just like corporate workplaces, can benefit from input by the users of the space. Yet many learning spaces are planned without input from the people who will teach them. Tap faculty experience in teaching and learning.”

If this “lesson” is true, Rose-Hulman is already ahead of the class. After a summer of room renovations, Rose-Hulman students and faculty will enjoy five new spaces for teaching and learning in the Myers building starting this Fall. But, in fact, these spaces have been in development for over a year in conjunction with faculty input and the needs their students have expressed.  These new spaces will continue to evolve using the same feedback channels.

Dr. William Kline, Dean of innovation and Engagement has his eye on these classrooms, as ongoing experiments:

“The rooms feature warm colors, interesting materials and patterns, and the latest classroom technologies.  Each has been developed to a theme ranging from a focus on teaming to lecture capture and distance education.

The design of the rooms began in the summer of 2011 and incorporated input from faculty on desirable classroom features combined with a desire to explore the latest classroom technologies.  One way to spur innovation in teaching is to ‘change the environment’ and the classrooms will provide the opportunity for faculty to explore new approaches.  Faculty response has been positive so far.  After a brief introduction and training session on his classroom, one faculty member arranged for another class section to be held in the same room.

In the spirit of innovation, we will use these rooms as test beds to learn what features and technology faculty like and don’t like to continue to refine these rooms as well as translate the successes to other classrooms on campus.”

For more on the future of classrooms, see the 360 article on the subject.
And you may also want to check out an example of a learning space experiment going on at Stanford’s d.school.