Launching Innovation

Students from ECU’s College of Engineering and Technology and College of Business will collaborate and learn how to bring their products to market thanks to a new $27,000 grant (photos by Michael Rudd)

Grant leads to historic collaboration

East Carolina University’s College of Engineering and Technology (CET) will collaborate with the College of Business (COB) for a first-of-its-kind project that will integrate product innovation with entrepreneurship.

This collaboration is possible thanks to a $27,000 faculty grant from the VentureWell, which provides funding, immersive workshops and specialized coaching to student STEM innovators to help them move their inventions into the marketplace.

According to Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala, assistant professor with CET’s Department of Technology Systems, one project objective is to strengthen team building, spur innovation and grow entrepreneurship at ECU and in the rural communities it serves.

“We’re going to cross-weave two courses from different disciplines to produce teams that are well-versed in both business and technical expertise,” said Agarwala, who is the project’s principal investigator.

Business students Dagi Bayunga, left, and Katy Stotter, will work with College of Engineering and Technology students to learn how to launch and market innovations.

Over a three-year period, 200 CET rapid prototyping and COB entrepreneurial students will form 40 teams, with each team having two CET students with three COB students. The teams’ goal is to design and develop real-world products through engineering and entrepreneurship activities, which will ultimately lead to successful and viable ventures.

“Students will create prototypes of products using rapid prototyping and other advanced manufacturing techniques,” said David Mayo, a COB instructor with the Miller School of Entrepreneurship (MSOE) and project co-principal investigator. “The students will also develop business plans around the products and ultimately will present to groups of angel investors, granting agencies or banks.”

ECU Dean Harry Ploehn poses for photo

Dean Harry Ploehn

“I’m delighted about this VentureWell grant and thankful for the efforts of Ranjeet and David to build this first-of-its-kind CET-COB collaboration,” said Harry Ploehn, CET dean. “Technological innovation is the starting point for much of tomorrow’s successful entrepreneurship, and this grant will give our students a real educational advantage and the possibility of turning great ideas into startup companies.”

Dr. Carlyle Rogers, licensing associate with ECU’s Office of Technology Transfer, and Daniel Zuberbier, education & instructional technology librarian with ECU’s Joyner Library, will serve as collaborators on the VentureWell grant.

Student teams will work closely with the MSOE, which will provide support for product development and commercialization. The teams will also have access to mentoring at Joyner Library, ECU’s Idea Lab, the Small Business and Technology Development Center, and through the I-Corps @ ECU program.

With the grant, Agarwala, Mayo, MSOE instructors, university and local representatives will have the ability to send teams to apply for stage one of the VentureWell Entrepreneur-Team program. If chosen, teams will have the opportunity to win $5,000 in funding to help them find the right customers and deliver prototypes.

“The Miller School of Entrepreneurship was established to help all ECU students,” said Stan Eakins, COB dean. “This unique collaboration, I hope, will be the first step of many collaborations with many of our colleges. I look forward to seeing the innovation that will come from this project.”

“Who knows what great things may come of this,” added Ploehn.

Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala, second from left, will lead a team of collaborators that will help students to innovate and then pitch their products in future competitions. Also pictured are, from left, Dr. Carlyle Rogers, ECU’s Office of Technology Transfer; David Mayo, College of Business and Miller School of Entrepreneurship; and Daniel Zuberbier, Joyner Library.