What is E&I?

Entrepreneurship. Innovation. Design.

What do they mean?


Welcome to E&I 101, the newest (and shortest!) class at Mines. Consider this your crash course for understanding the entrepreneurial mindset. Here we’re going to break down the most important words you’ll need to understand what E&I means at Mines.


Entrepreneurship is about more than just starting your own business. It’s all about the mindset. If you’re someone who takes risks, plays well with others, takes apart, rebuilds, invents, explores, and spots opportunities, you’ve got an entrepreneurial mindset.

Mines is a member of the KEEN Network, a network of thousands of engineering faculty working to unleash undergraduate engineers so that they can create personal, economic, and societal value through the entrepreneurial mindset. Through years of research, KEEN boiled the entrepreneurial mindset down to the Three C’s:



Creating Value

1. curiosity

An important part of the entrepreneurial mindset is curiosity: the love of learning, the desire for growth, and the thrill of exploring our world for its hidden opportunities. Are you someone who takes things apart just to see how they fit back together? Do you love stumbling across new places and ideas? A healthy dose of curiosity pushes us to discover things nobody else has thought of.

2. Connections

Nobody can do everything; the key to breaking the mold and building the future is by working with others. Teams enhance each member’s individual strengths, making the collective talent more powerful than any person on their own.

Entrepreneurial thinkers are always building their network. Through meeting, connecting with, and understanding people’s strengths and passions, an entrepreneurial thinker assembles a pool of human potential. The larger and more diverse our network grows, the better the chance that we’re able to connect those with the dream and those that have the skills to make it happen.

3. creating value

The root of all entrepreneurial thinking is to create positive change. We strive to look at our world as full of opportunities for improvement, and we take it upon ourselves to be the agent that makes those improvements happen.

Simply having a great idea is not enough; the mark of an entrepreneurial thinker is the courage to act on their ideas. Relentlessly building, testing, and improving our ideas are what create real-world value from an intangible idea. This is often a long and challenging process – but the reward is creating something where there was nothing before and bringing real benefit to others.

Finally, entrepreneurial thinkers understand how to communicate value to others. Any inventor can create something new – true innovators and entrepreneurs are able to explain their invention’s role in the world and the need it fulfills.



In the simplest terms, innovation is a process of significant, positive change that results from solving a specific problem for a specific set of people.


Positive Change



Although we often use innovation to describe new technologies or products, that doesn’t quite capture the full meaning of the word.

Innovation is really a process. It’s a path designers take to get from problem to solution, creating value along the way.


Innovation is all about changing the world through new and creative ideas.

It’s a good idea to keep in mind that not all change is helpful, or even asked for. That’s why innovators strive for true improvement: positivemeasurable changes in the world that people actually want.



At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how great our idea is if nobody uses it! The key to innovating well is being familiar with the people whose lives we are trying to improve, knowing their needs and interests, and exactly how a problem impacts their life.

This is called empathy, and it’s a key part of the design thinking process.



An intrapreneur is someone who works entrepreneurially within the context of a large organization. It’s perfect for Mines students who want the stability of a large company while still having the freedom to think and move in truly innovative ways.

When Lisa designs, pitches, team-builds and implements a new workspace for her university, she is engaging in intrapreneurship.



When Mark is asked to form a small, fast-moving team to design and test a specific component within a large engineering company, he’s an intrapreneur.


Design thinking is a proven, repeatable method to solve seemingly impossible problems with extraordinary results.




Empathy, the first step in great design, is knowing who we are designing for by understanding:

  • the user’s perspective
  • what they do & why they do it
  • their current physical & emotional needs

When we empathize with others, we ask questions and listen well to what the user is saying.



We each have our personal biases, which means that we sometimes filter what other people say through our own experiences. To fully capture the authenticity and meaning of others’ needs, we look at challenges through the perspective of the person whom the challenge affects. By understanding where they are coming from, and by watching and speaking with them, we can begin to create solutions tailored for them. 

Sweden’s Museum of Failure is a humorous reminder of what happens when you design without empathizing. Technology flops like the Sony Betamax, Apple’s Newton, and Bic pens “For Her” were solutions that never actually considered the needs of their intended users, and failed spectacularly.




Problem definition is making sense of all that we’ve learned from users and turning it into one concise challenge we’re going to solve.


By now, we know our user pretty well, so we understand the problem they are having. Now we’ve got to come up with our problem definition. We know we have a good problem definition when it is:

  • user-centered
  • broad enough that we keep our creative freedom
  • narrow enough that we have a clear direction in which to proceed

Good problem definitions come in the form of the question “How might we…?”

Why do it?

In order to solve any problem, we must first know what problem we are solving!



WHAT IS ideation?

During the ideation phase, we try to get as many crazy ideas out of our heads and onto paper or a whiteboard as possible. A helpful, though often difficult tactic is to let go of the constraints – how we know things are traditionally done – to brainstorm as many solutions as possible. To make this easier, we should brainstorm with a group familiar with the challenge who is open to hearing our wild thoughts.

WHY ideate?

Ideation pushes us beyond the norm of traditional thinking and into innovative territory. By generating ideas, even those that are entirely unfeasible, we make new connections and see new solutions amidst the slew of ideas. 




Once we’ve identified our best ideas, we build very simple, testable mockups called prototypes. In some design circles this is known as your minimum viable product, or MVP – essentially, the fastest, easiest, cheapest version that can be built and still survive a round of testing.

At Mines, many projects, courses and extracurricular ventures build MVPs with a method called rapid prototyping. We use low-cost materials (post-it notes, glue, LEGOs, string). By spending 5 minutes putting together a very low resolution prototype, you can test it out and get feedback from users as fast as possible.


Prototyping allows us to build and test our ideas without going to the trouble of making a fully-developed product. Flaws and strengths of our design are much more obvious when experienced physically rather than simply discussed.




Testing is a repeated cycle of exposing our design to the user, while making small adjustments based on their input that allows us to stay focused on the user and their needs. Watching them interact with our design will reveal how they see and use our product. 


We know our first design will be nowhere near as good as our finished product, so we don’t strive for perfection here. Instead, we try to gain as much user feedback as possible – in these early iterations of our design, feedback is worth its weight in gold.

The best way to get feedback? A fast, repeated cycle of building, testing, getting data on what we did right and wrong, and rebuilding with these updated user needs in mind. Design is an iterative process – it’s all about adjusting it and trying again!

Looking for more?

If you want to read more about entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, innovation, or design thinking, check out the resources below.