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The Pitch: Empowering the Entrepreneur Engineer

Engineering students hoping to become the next Steve Jobs can now wind up their tech pitches this year at The Ohio State University.

Watch a short video about this new course.

After navigating careers in academia, and owning a successful startup company for nine years, Electrical and Computer Engineering and George R. Smith Chaired Professor Sanjay Krishna initiated the new course ECE5078 for students called, “Empowering the Entrepreneur Engineer.”

“I feel there is a need right now. Not every Ph.D. student wants to become faculty. As the marketplace is changing, the demands on the current engineer are also changing. A lot of them want to start their own company,” Krishna said. “The basic idea of this course is to teach our engineering students the concept of entrepreneur-minded learning. You have an idea? Is it a business idea? Is there a market? What is capital and how do you raise it?”

To accomplish this, however, an engineer must have both technical and business savvy to enhance their degree. Many of the top-ranked national schools already offer student entrepreneurship training.

Krishna wants students to come up with their own startup ideas and present them to the class, asking questions like, “What does the customer want?” or “What does the customer need?”

The curriculum also incorporates how to read balance sheets, project management and finance. 

Fourth-year graduate ECE student and Ph.D. candidate Ramy Tantawy launched an image sensor design startup company two years ago. He took Krishna’s pilot entrepreneurship course in 2018 and found the experience useful.

“I feel a lot of the concepts being taught in the class are very applicable, especially in how you structure the financing,” he said. “I feel like it’s a guided learning experience, that will shape how much you get out of it.”

Krishna tries to incorporate his real-world experience when he can. Students tell him there is a lot to learn from the textbook, but when he talks about his own startup company, all those off-the-cuff remarks are what make the course hit home.

“Being an entrepreneur has actually made me a better professor,” Krishna said. 

He also makes sure to bring in guest lecturers to talk about their experiences. Plus, students get the opportunity to pitch to actual investors from the Ohio Innovation Fund (OIF).

Bill Baumel, managing director of OIF, said he sees Krishna's class as critical to his group’s mission to partner with high growth industry startups and inspire new ones here in Ohio. 

“These students are of the highest caliber, extremely innovative and entrepreneurial. They are the future bold founders we want to encourage, mentor and work with over the next decades - at the same level of talent and potential as those students at MIT in Boston or Stanford in Silicon Valley.” 

In many cases, Krishna said, students may not know what it is they want. The first half of the course is asking the engineer to look within. Are they really looking to become an entrepreneur? What are they willing to bet to make that happen? Are they going to take risks, be safe?

“The idea is to deal with your own insecurities and weaknesses. Evaluate your strengths and most importantly evaluate your weaknesses,” Krishna said. 

Join Professor Sanjay Krishna, as he holds a seminar on the topic, "Taking a Technology to Market: An Incomplete Story of Faculty Entrepreneurship," Thursday, Oct. 31 at Noon in Dreese Labs, Room 260.

Story by: Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist, Horns.1@osu.edu