A natural fit

Jul 14, 2006

Thanks to a $50,000 fellowship from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)/The Kern Family Foundation, two Kettering faculty members will implement the "e-Kettering Initiative", which will work to develop innovation and entrepreneurial skills among graduates.

"Change is the nature of the Universe."
From I Ching, "The Book Of Change"

For some organizations, corporate culture change spells doom. For others, cultural shifts are a natural development. The one inevitability is this: change, as expressed by the I Ching, is part of the evolutionary pattern of life and we either embrace it or fight against it.

Examples of disastrous corporate cultural change are everywhere. How many readers can forget the Enron scandal and media reports of a corporate culture shift in accounting "practices" in which senior leaders of the company engaged in unethical behavior and financial activity for the sole purpose of padding their wallets? And don't forget stories about companies on the verge of collapse that experienced dramatic corporate culture change and emerged from the ashes of ruin-Gibson Guitar Co. and Harley Davidson come to mind.

At Kettering University, a good change is brewing thanks to a $50,000 one-year grant from the National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance(NCIIA) supported by the Kern Family Foundation through the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN). This program offers institutions access to vital resources for building quality entrepreneurship education programs that engage technical students in hands-on learning. The grant provides funding for the "e-Kettering Initiative" and names Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering and primary investigator, and Dr. Andrew Borchers '80, associate professor of Information Systems, as Kern Fellows. They will lead in the development of entrepreneurial training for Kettering students and oversee a change in University culture that aids in developing the entrepreneurial spirit and aspirations of engineering, science and business graduates of the institution.

According to Tavakoli, this opportunity is a natural fit for Kettering.

"Individual innovation is still the engine of this country, despite the issue of outsourcing and related concerns," he said, adding that the best new ideas often "come from smaller firms and individuals with good ideas."

Borchers agreed. "Larger companies with more mature manufacturing operations ship positions overseas to realize cost benefits in employee compensation," he explained. "That's clearly one of the many reasons at the root of the outsourcing issue."

These are only a few of the reasons why both believe the time is right to establish the "e-Kettering Initiative" at the institution, which has a long history of producing business management, science and engineering leaders. Some of the school's most noteworthy examples of leadership and entrepreneurs include Elliot "Pete" Estes '39, who was president of General Motors Corp., and Dane A. Miller '69, founder and retired CEO of Biomet Inc., a worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of products for hip, knee, shoulder, elbow and small joint replacement.

The proposal submitted by Tavakoli and Borchers describes a vision and plan to create cultural change at Kettering by expanding the school's tradition and success in training engineering, science and business management professionals, and nurturing these graduates into innovators capable of engaging in a world of small, medium and large enterprises. Ultimately, the long-term vision of the Kern Fellowship is to instill a mindset of innovation and entrepreneurial skills in Kettering grads through a transformed faculty, innovative curriculum and extra curricular activities.

Tavakoli and Borchers, who will also receive support from Dr. William Riffe of Manufacturing Engineering and Dr. Pete Gheresus of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, established time frames for this initiative.

The Kern Fellowship Period (April 2006-October 2007):
Activities include developing a mindset for entrepreneurial education
at Kettering and begin making funding appeals as part of a capital
campaign. Goal: affect 10 percent (or 14) of the faculty and
25 percent (or 625) of students.

The Tactical Period (2008-2012):
Broaden activities to include more Students and faculty while
attracting major gifts and launch new programs such as a minor
in entrepreneurship. Goal: affect 50 (or 70) of faculty and 75 percent
(or 1875) of students.

The Strategic Period (2013-2019):
Fulfill long-term vision with demonstrated success in educating
young entrepreneurs and helping to build a new economy in Flint.

Some of the proposed deliverables for all three periods include the addition of courses in entrepreneurship; extra-curricular activities such as the development of "Society for Entrepreneurial Mind Set," an infrastructure comprised of faculty, alumni and industry mentors who can positively impact more than 40 students each year; faculty development opportunities at NCIIA and American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) entrepreneurship conferences; and assessment activities to evaluate the progress of the project. Furthermore, the project calls for the development of a campus speaker series which will reach approximately 160 students each year.

"Essentially, we want students to come away from the speaker series with a greater awareness and interest in participating in our business plan competition among other things," Borchers said.

Both Tavakoli and Borchers believe the time is perfect for the development of this initiative. "If Kettering can generate successful programs in entrepreneurial education in the 2006-2008 timeframe, we will be in an excellent position to obtain significant gifts to support this work," Tavakoli said.

Specific activities planned for the Kern Fellowship Period include a new course on innovation teams taught with Manufacturing Engineering and Business faculty members. This interdisciplinary effort will provide a more expansive approach to the course and focus on technological and new ventures in the fuel cell field. Students in this course will select a problem space of their choosing or from a set provided by the faculty, such as fuel cells, bio-medical topics, the Flint area and developing world problems. The KEEN Curriculum Link and connections with other participants funded through the NCIIA grant program will provide resources in the development of the course. The final projects by students will be business plans that address their chosen problem, with faculty and alumni entrepreneurs assessing all projects.

The timing of the Kern Fellowship Grant is important given the economic status of Flint and the state of Michigan in general. With unemployment hovering around the 7 percent mark for the entire state, combined with the closing of numerous automotive and manufacturing facilities over the past 20 years, the region is in dire need of reinvigoration that is only available through technical innovation and entrepreneurial activity. In recent months, Kettering has secured a number of contributions for the school's Center for Fuel Cell Systems and Powertrain Integration, and the current work taking place in this Center could complement the Kern Fellowship Grant. Finally, the University has a number of course offerings that could serve as natural entrance points for the entrepreneurial concepts stipulated in the Kern grant proposal.

To learn more about the Kern Fellowship and ongoing development of the e-Kettering Initiative, contact Dr. Massoud Tavakoli at (810) 762-7922, or Dr. Andrew Borchers at (810) 762-7983.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
(810) 762-9538

The following describes the flow of a technical problem from initial development to the business proposal stage during the Kern Fellowship Period.