Thursday, March 5, 2009

NAE Grand Challenges Summit- Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship, even though not a specific Grand Challenge itself, is the driving force for the proper implementation of every solution to the challenges, according to a panel of entrepreneurs and business leaders who conducted a panel discussion at the Grand Challenges Summit hosted by the Pratt School of Engineering on March 2 and 3.

The Entrepreneurship panel discussed the most important factors to foster entrepreneurship and innovation to accelerate diffusion of technology solutions to the 14 Engineering Grand Challenges.

"How many times have we heard the word 'entrepreneur,' " asked session moderator Tom Byers of Stanford University as he opened the panel discussion.

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset among young students is key, said Phil Weilerstein, Executive Director, National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). "Student innovation is not just a practice activity, but it is something that has the power to change the world."

Paul Kedrosky, senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation, added that an immense portion of entrepreneurship training has begun to focus specifically on scientists and engineers.

Collaborative curriculums are being developed at various universities -- including Duke -- to harness the innovative entrepreneurial attitude among engineers, to enable them to better market and strategically deal with situations.

Trevor Loy, founder, Flywheel Ventures, notes that entrepreneurs, particularly a specific breed of entrepreneurs in the form of venture capitalists, has generated 18% of the GDP of the country, while only forming a measly 0.02% of the investment asset. "The Venture Capitalist industry is small, but the outside impact on the economy is high."

"Engineering entrepreneurship is action," said Steve Nichols, Professor, University of Texas, Austin.

"The entrepreneur is like a jockey," adds Trevor Loy, as he controls how the innovative solutions presented by the engineers and scientists effectively reaches the customers.

"So why is now a different time from what it was 10 years ago for innovation in this area?" is the question that needs to be asked by an entrepreneur and an innovator before taking something to the market. "One of the things that need to be different is how will it be sustainable and self-generating," said Phil Weilerstein. Another fundamental question that needs to be answered before introducing an innovation to the customers is "Who cares?" and how can we separate the customer from their money, according to Steve Nichols.

The panel also informed the audiences about stimulating effective technology transfer and fostering innovation-oriented business ecosystems in all regions.

Paul Kedrosky beautifully summarized the role of an entrepreneur - "Entrepreneurship is like returning to love every time, even after having your heart broken many times."

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