When Dr. Lauri Olivier joined Villanova University as director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship program in January 2020, she never could have anticipated how short-lived her time on campus would be. Just as she was ironing out the details of her family’s move from Florida to the Philadelphia suburbs, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When she returned home in March, she didn’t know that she wouldn’t be returning for the Engineering Entrepreneurship Summer Institute (E2SI), which was to begin in late May, or that the program would need to quickly be adapted to a virtual learning environment for its 23 students. She says, “We tried to make this the best possible experience for them, and I think it went very, very well.”
E2SI recently came to a close with the students’ much-anticipated final presentations to a Zoom room of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and College of Engineering leadership and faculty who served as judges. Dr. Olivier kicked off the event by highlighting all that the students had learned during the seven-and-a-half-week program, from design thinking, creativity and innovation frameworks to customer personas, user experience analysis and market segmentation. They were challenged to establish value propositions, business models and branding, and to file patents and develop venture pitches. “It was based on Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship, a rigorous 24-step process created at MIT,” explains Dr. Olivier. In addition to E2SI’s five faculty members—Dr. Olivier; Assistant Director of Engineering Entrepreneurship Richard Stumpf; Multidisciplinary Design Lab Director George Simmons; Sustainable Engineering Professor of Practice Dr. Ross Lee; and adjunct Sarah Lucas, CCO of New World Angels, an angel investment company—students learned from nine technical experts across a variety of disciplines, 11 venture mentors and seven business development guest lecturers.
Francesca Stadtman, a rising junior Chemical Engineering major, found the variety of guest speakers to be very beneficial, “It helped me better understand how the principles of entrepreneurship can be applied to a wide variety of careers.” Chiachen Terry Yuan ‘23 CpE adds, “The program gives you a taste of product development with a pool of professors and industry professionals with experiences in entrepreneurship or working with new technologies.”
The 2020 E2SI cohort included representation from the College of Engineering, Villanova School of Business and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as one student from the University of Pennsylvania. They formed six interdisciplinary teams, bringing their individual skillsets and knowledge to the table. This diversity was evident in the unique products and services presented.
While each team was provided with the judges’ feedback and scoring, Dr. Lee notes that the program chose not to turn the presentations into a competition. “From our perspective they were all great and all winners!” He also pointed out that this was the fourth straight Engineering Entrepreneurship minor cohort in which 100% of the teams filed provisional patents with the assistance of Villanova alumnus and patent attorney Jay Halt ‘87 EE.
Engineering Entrepreneurship Advisory Board member Bernard Borghei ‘94 EE, executive vice president of operations and co-founder of Vertical Bridge, shared his experience and expertise throughout the program and served as a judge at the final presentations. He describes the students as, “smart, motivated, and unbounded by the negativities that one eventually faces in the real business world when it comes to taking an idea and make it into a real product.”