Revving the entrepreneurship engine

By Website Administrator | Oct 5, 2007

Kettering University's e-Kettering Initiative receives a second $50,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation to further enhance entrepreneurship education for engineering, science and management students at the institution.

Listen.

The ground at Kettering is reverberating. A low rumble emanates from the campus lawns and rattles the windows of University buildings.

No, it's not the boilers bubbling to life; not the clamor of road construction on Third Avenue, or the growl of a big-block V-8 in a late model Chevy rumbling past. Something more significant is creating this new energy.

It's the entrepreneurship engine. Engineering, science and business management students are working to fine-tune their business ideas, thanks to a new $50,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation through the Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN). This is the second grant Kettering received for the e-Kettering Initiative through the Kern program, which offers predominantly technical institutions access to critical resources for building quality entrepreneurship education programs that engage technical students in developing their business skills as well as their engineering and science talents.

With innovation in U.S. lacking in terms of new technological developments, Kettering's efforts to help students tap into their entrepreneurship sensibilities and develop business ideas is necessary as the City of Flint and indeed Michigan look for ways to increase business opportunities and create jobs. Currently, the state's unemployment hovers around 7.4 percent. Efforts like the e-Kettering Initiative could pave the way for new business development in areas like Flint.

In 2006 when Kettering received the first $50,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation, Dr. Massoud Tavakoli, professor of Mechanical Engineering and the lead faculty member in the e-Kettering Initiative, admits that the goals he and his colleagues collaborating on this effort-Dr. Andy Borchers of the Business Dept. and Dr. Bill Riffe of the Manufacturing Engineering Dept.-had set for the first year were rather lofty.

"We had a pretty aggressive strategy for the first year, but knew that working a newly developed course into the existing programs and course load might be challenging," Tavakoli said. "To be honest, we achieved a great deal more than we anticipated. The students took to this initiative very quickly and since 2006, they have taken it upon themselves to further develop what we proposed in our first grant proposal," he added.

The list of their achievements is robust. For example, they formed a student run organization called the Kettering Entrepreneur Society (www.kesociety.com), which includes 60 students, as well as faculty, alumni and industry mentors, and works to promote an entrepreneurial culture at Kettering University based on innovation and social values. In addition, the group has hosted approximately six speakers thus far, which have attracted more than 360 Kettering students. Three of these speakers were Kettering alumni. Other significant accomplishments made during the first grant cycle include:

    >LI>A business plan competition: this will wrap up by Oct. 5, with a run-off with finalists planned for December. Participants have a chance to win more than $4,500 in prizes (visit www.KESociety.com for more information).
  • Creation of a new business called RateMyStudentRental, LLC, (www.ratemystudentrental.com), which will launch online the week of Oct. 11: this site provides college students an opportunity to rate rental properties around college campuses as they determine where they will live. Currently, this business is searching for seed money.
  • Creation of an undergraduate class titled Innovation and New Ventures (Business 572) taught by Borchers and Riffe. Currently, 42 students have enrolled in this course since it began in July 2006 and the Dept. of Business expects to add this course to the Business core curriculum, as well as adapt it in Kettering's new MBA program aimed at engineering undergraduates.

The development of a Kettering Entrepreneur Society meeting and organizational space on the fifth floor of the Campus Center. This space provides a professional meeting and lounge setting where students, guests and clients can brainstorm business ideas and conduct work associated with the Society.

The focus on entrepreneurship has resulted in a significant position within Kettering's comprehensive campaign.

"Our goals for the second grant are no less aggressive," Tavakoli explained, adding, "We hope to implement curriculum changes to add entrepreneurial content to our degree programs."

The new grant covers phase II of the project and includes several goals such as the following:

  • Development of an undergraduate entrepreneurship minor: this will be an inter-disciplinary minor in entrepreneurship for undergraduates.
  • Creation of a pre-college program: this programming would reach under-represented minorities and female students, which would fill Kettering's pipeline with entrepreneurially aware students and help reach under-represented groups in the engineering profession.
  • Creation of a graduate course in entrepreneurship that supports Kettering's new engineering-focused MBA.

"Another aspect we hope to implement is to work on a revision to the curriculum that addresses the first two years of college in terms of entrepreneurship. These are essential for Kettering to help orient our students to entrepreneurial thinking," Tavakoli said. University leadership is clearly engaged in this effort as well: Dr. Stan Liberty, president of the institution, and Dr. Michael Harris, provost, have pledged a match of $10,000 for upcoming business plan competitions during the 2007-2008 academic year, which represents critical institutional support and sends the message that the entrepreneurial spirit at Kettering is highly regarded and necessary to the success of Flint and Michigan economies.

The Kettering Entrepreneur Society is also looking for angel investors, who can provide seed money for many of the excellent business ideas currently under development, and additional industry mentors, particularly alumni who have achieved success as entrepreneurs. For students, this initiative has helped them look at their ideas as more than just unrealized dreams.

"The Kettering Entrepreneur Society serves as a business building tool and motivation, and I am surrounded by individuals who are developing business ideas," explained Marc Alexander, a senior studying Mechanical Engineering who is also pursuing a minor in Business Management. He is also the founder of Youth of Tomorrow, a company incorporated in June 2006 that provides youth with career-related programs.

Specifically, the goal of Youth of Tomorrow is to prepare youth for career opportunities through career insights, personal development opportunities and enhanced communication skills training. The organization believes that college may not be for everyone and as a result, seeks new, fun ways to incorporate learning as a means of preparing youth for careers.

"I want to be around people who are successful when it comes to running and developing businesses. When you put a group of individuals with the same business ideas in the same room together, you create a panel of advisors like no other who see problems that I may not see and possible ways to grow that I may not have considered before," Alexander added.

One of the highlights of the e-Kettering Initiative is the business plan competition. Currently, the managing board, which is led by Borchers, is wrapping up the 2007 competition-final submissions were due Oct. 5 for a chance to win a $2,000 first prize and several other cash prizes. For the 2007-2008 academic year, more than $5,000 in cash prizes will be up for grabs for business plans. In addition, the KES will continue to raise funds to send students to short courses, seminars and conferences.

But to engage in these activities, students must outline their idea, define their needs and apply to the Society for support. The Society will then meet to discuss possible solutions to help resolve needs of students regarding their ideas. Ultimately, Tavakoli hopes that the e-Kettering Initiative and Kettering Entrepreneur Society become vehicles for fostering entrepreneurial collaboration among the educational institutions in the greater Flint area.

For more information on the KES or to learn how to join, visit www.KESociety.com, or contact the organization via email at info@KESociety.com. For details on the new $50,000 grant or inquires about entrepreneurship opportunities at Kettering, contact Dr. Massoud Tavakoli at mtavakol@kettering.edu.

Written by Gary J. Erwin
810-762-9538
gerwin@kettering.edu