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Students Learn to Think Like Entrepreneurs

International Partnership Spurs Innovation

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Aishwarya Habib (left), an engineering student from BVB College in Hubli, India, worked with Manning School of Business graduate students Jennifer Feltri-George and Andy C.H. Lau in an international entrepreneurship and innovation class.

By Jill Gambon

Aishwarya Habib, an engineering student from B.V. Bhoommaraddi College of Engineering  & Technology in Hubli, India, wanted to learn about business and how to think like an entrepreneur, so she signed up for a summer program offered by her college and UMass Lowell. After an intensive two weeks working with fellow BVB classmates and UMass Lowell students, Habib not only learned about product development and marketing strategies, she also came to understand what it’s like to be part of a multidisciplinary, multicultural team.

“This has helped me so much. I have been exposed to the way the business world works,” said Habib, one of 30 students—14 from BVB College and 16 from UMass Lowell—to participate in the three-credit innovation and entrepreneurship course held at the Manning School of Business (MSB) in June.

The students learned about the steps involved in commercializing an idea or prototype. They researched the market potential for products and evaluated possible manufacturing, sales and distribution scenarios. The class was led by MSB lecturers Ashwin Mehta and Deborah Finch and Nitin Kulkarni, an associate professor in BVB’s Department of Management Studies. Several MSB faculty members served as guest speakers on such topics as marketing, team building and communications. In addition to the classroom work, the students also toured local businesses and startup incubators.
“This is a unique experience. The students are learning to think like entrepreneurs and take an idea and bring it to the next step,” said Mehta.
The BVB students were all engineering majors while those from UMass Lowell were mostly business graduate students. They were divided into teams and assigned a technology project for commercialization. Some projects originated as engineering capstone assignments, some came through the Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center (M2D2) and the university’s Commercial Ventures and Intellectual Property office. One project came from BVB College.
The project assigned to Habib and her teammates was a concept for a therapeutic sensory board intended to sooth a disabled adult. The group spent hours researching the potential market here and in India, identifying sources for the board’s materials, determining the costs of manufacturing and projecting sales. Team member Jennifer Feltri-George, an MBA student employed in the publishing industry, said she can apply what she learned from the class to her work.
“I work in cross-functional teams every day. You have to take everyone’s point of view into consideration,” she says. “There is so much emphasis on innovation not just in startups but in all organizations.”

That approach is something Habib and other BVB students crave. In fact, 55 students from the college applied for the 14 slots in the class, Kulkarni said.

“The students are hungry for these ideas,” he said. “With this course, they are learning how to work with diverse sets of people, understand the nuances of entrepreneurship and finance, get great ideas for making presentations and take the best practices back to India.”

Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, leading technology entrepreneur and founder of the Deshpande Foundation, was on hand for the students’ final presentations. He was impressed with the collaboration and creativity.

“What happens when you dislocate people is that they internalize what they know in different ways,” he said. “This encourages out-of-the-box thinking.”

Francis College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hartman, who also listened to the students’ presentations, praised building multidisciplinary teams to solve problems. 

“This is a tremendous program. It brings students together from different cultures and majors and completely immerses them in an entrepreneurial experience. I was impressed with the depth of analysis, especially given the short time frame and unfamiliarity of the technologies involved,” he said. 

In the fall, the College of Engineering and the Manning School will offer a senior design course to engineering and business students that follows a similar model.

“The hope is that engineering students will learn about entrepreneurship and marketing while business students will gain a better understanding of the innovation process,” Hartman said.
The course was the second one offered through UMass Lowell and BVB’s partnership. In January, a group of UMass Lowell students and faculty traveled to Hubli for a similar class. BVB is expected to host the next course in January 2015, Mehta said.