Entrepreneurial Mindset in Science & Engineering
Engineers & Scientists With an Entrepreneurial Mindset Transform the World
What is the Entrepreneurial Mindset?
The entrepreneurial mindset is not simply about startups. It equips technical problem solvers to understand the bigger picture, allowing them to recognize opportunities, evaluate markets, and learn from their mistakes.
This mindset powers industries, transforms companies from within, and creates value for employees and customers alike.
Here are some examples of the entrepreneurial mindset at work in KEEN:
- Entrepreneurially minded students use Maker Spaces to create value. To them, making means acting on an opportunity with an eye for impact, where impact is significance x scale.
- By integrating entrepreneurial mindset into labs, extracurricular activities, courses, and across entire programs, universities are not just hubs of knowledge; they become hubs of transformational experiences.
- Students who graduate with an entrepreneurial mindset have a head-start in their careers. These graduates are ready to take on challenges and propose solutions to employers.
EM & Design@Mines
Problem Solving & Problem Definition
Problem solving and problem definition are the two most critical skills you can learn as an engineer – if there were no problems to solve, you wouldn’t have a job! This requires you to both be able to identify the problem by digging to the core of the issue for clients, as well as to then deliver quality solutions. By borrowing from entrepreneurship, you can advance these two skills even further, thus making yourself indispensable to your employer.
Entrepreneurs are essentially just problem definers and solvers. A company starts when someone identifies a problem or need, and then grows as that person and their team come up with solutions to that problem.
At their core, the best entrepreneurs are just phenomenal problem solvers with an insatiable drive for learning and solving what they set out to accomplish. There’s no reason why you can’t achieve or surpass their level of success.
Stakeholder engagement, market research, user experience interviews… From engineering and research to entrepreneurship, all of these terms essentially boil down the the same thing: you do not know everything, and therefore must ask the user about it! There is a reason businesses spend millions of dollars on surveys, panels, taste tests, and every other type of end user research: IT WORKS. By talking with the people who will actually be consuming your product or service, you gain valuable insight that you never would have been able to learn on your own.
And this doesn’t just apply to the end user, it also applies to you boss, team, tangental teams, and anyone else who might touch the solution. In entrepreneurship, founders often have to deal with Boards, local laws/communities, distributors, and so much more in order to make their companies successful. If you don’t learn how to solicit advice from your Board, you may find yourself outed as CEO! This could also happen when working internally on a project at a large company. If you don’t know how to appropriately check in with your boss and coordinate with your teammates, your time at that company may be short lived. Learning how to always go back to your stakeholders for their feedback will be crucial to your ongoing success, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not.
Check out this clip from the show Silicon Valley to see what can happen when you design something with only yourself and team involved in the development…
Idea Generation & Brainstorming
Have you ever heard the typical startup founder say, “We’re… for …”? Think GameFly is the Netflix for video games, or Bird is the Uber for scooters. If not yet, you definitely will at some point since, one, it’s an effective way of describing what a new company does, and two, it happens so frequently because companies often build off of one another to try to replicate success. Sound familiar? This is essentially the concept you learned about as Hangtown Fry: combining two ideas together to make a superior idea.
This is just one way in which brainstorming and idea generation in the startup world intersects with the engineering and science world and can help you to reach even better solutions. Since entrepreneurs are constantly faced with new problems and challenges threatening their companies (and possibly leading to huge monetary losses, sometimes personally), they are at the forefront of creatively thinking their way to the top.
Here are some different (and some odd) ways entrepreneurs generate their best ideas:
Sure you’re smart and have great ideas, but unless you can communicate those ideas, you’ll never get anywhere. Entrepreneurs know the benefit of having great communication skills – without them, they can’t secure funding, and without funding, there is no company. This is why founders and CEOs spend so much time working on their elevator pitches and networking skills. They know that being able to not only communicate your ideas but also to communicate with others in general is a huge asset to their companies.
Likewise in engineering, communication is key to the success of your project. If you’ve solved a problem but can’t clearly show your boss your solution, there’s a chance it may never see the light of day (no matter how brilliant it may be). If you need an employee of yours to complete a task in a very specific way, but don’t articulate it correctly, you may be looking at hours of your own time spent rectifying the mistake. When working with teams – both internally and externally – you’ll need to be able to give feedback so the project stays on track. Plus, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll need to give some kind of presentation over the course of your career! And giving a poor presentation in front of the wrong people can set you back in your career goals. Focusing on improving these skills – whether written, oral, or visual – is just as essential to the career of a scientist or engineer as it is to an entrepreneur.
General Business Skills
Think you won’t need to know anything about business as a scientist or engineer? Think again. When you start out in any industry certainly you’ll most likely be out in the field or in the lab, blissfully unaware of all the paperwork, budgeting, and planning that your boss is doing. But if you want to move up? You’re going to need to know some general business skills.
Want to hire a new person to help you on your project? You’ll need to present a economic case for why it’s necessary and feasible. Got promoted to the manager of your team? Congrats! You’ll now need to manage and plan the budget for your department. The higher you get in any company, the more general business savvy you’ll need, so it’s good to start learning and preparing now.
Whether you’re building a physical product, offering a service, coding software, or writing a new theory, prototyping (aka testing in a low risk way) is absolutely essential to your success. In startup world, this is essentially the same concept as the MVP: Minimum Viable Product. This means that they’re building the bare minimum that they can to test out their business idea. Why? Because they want to be able to cheaply and quickly be able to test whether or not they’re on the right path or if they have to pivot, if they have the right business model or if they’re going to be bleeding money, if they’re truly unique to the market or if they need to adjust their offerings. No investor is going to give anyone millions of dollars without some kind of prototype! This could be a wireframe of a website, a video mockup of how a product works, or even a couple of drawings explaining the theory behind what you want to do – whatever it is, there IS a way to prototype it.
This is especially important in science and engineering where materials and labor can be extremely expensive. Before you start wasting your time and money on a new project, make sure you’ve at least prototyped the important functions: get down to your MVP then go from there.
When you’re given a problem to solve as a scientist or engineer, inevitably you’re going to have difficult decisions to make. Not only about the type or direction of the solution, but also even more challenging topics, such as around ethical or environmental implications. Being able to flare and focus will not only help you to make quality, informed decisions, but it could even help avert serious disaster.
Entrepreneurs face these kinds of critical decisions every day – decisions that could tank their company, or possibly their entire career. Because of the serious necessity of being able to quickly and effectively make decisions, entrepreneurs have incredibly helpful techniques for doing so.
Your job as an engineer or scientist is to find new ways to bring value to your client or company. That’s why they hired you! Whether you’re building a completely new product or process or working on something that already exists, your job is to find new ways to improve upon whatever it is you’re working on.