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Teaching the entrepreneurial mindset to tomorrow’s engineers

July 8, 2022

By Keith Hayes

Prof Lisa Bosman

To solve today’s myriad challenges, engineers must enter the workforce with an entrepreneurial mindset, says Purdue Prof Lisa Bosman

Engineers need to evolve from their traditional role of relying on corporate or scientific goals set by others, says Purdue Assistant Prof Lisa Bosman. Read about her recommendations and watch her webinar below. Engineers have traditionally been handed tasks, and then it’s up to them to figure out how to accomplish them. Those working on the space program, for example, were given big problems related to launch, how to land, how to support life, the composition of rocket fuels, and a host of other challenges. They solved them one by one and took humankind to the moon.

Where engineers have sometimes struggled, however, is in originating problems that demand an engineering solution. This requires the development of the entrepreneurial mindset. Yes, there are exceptions — engineers who combined the ability to solve real work problems with business acumen. Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, and Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard are examples of engineers of various kinds who developed remarkable products that took the world by storm.

With the world facing challenges on so many fronts — including achieving net zero and decarbonization targets by the end of the decade — every graduating engineer must enter the workforce with their entrepreneurial mindset in full gear. To combat climate change, for example, a vast number of technologies, innovations and solutions are needed to keep planetary temperatures from rising as high as some predict.

But how can such a mindset be instilled? As part of an Elsevier-sponsored webinar series on net zero solutions, Dr Lisa Bosman(opens in new tab/window), Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation at Purdue University(opens in new tab/window) and founder of iAGREE Labs(opens in new tab/window) (Inclusive, Applied, and Grounded Research in Entrepreneurially-Minded Education), recently gave a presentation on “Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset — An Integrative Approach.”

Watch Dr Bosman’s webinar

Teaching entrepreneurial skills is a staple in business schools, but it can benefit all students and faculty – including the those in engineering, agriculture and the arts. In this talk, Dr Lisa Bosman gives provides an overview of how university faculty from disciplines across campus can contribute to and drive innovation and entrepreneurial efforts.

One of Dr Bosman’s goals is to expand the teaching of entrepreneurial skills from being the sole province of business schools and bring it into many other disciplines such as engineering, agriculture and the arts. In her talk, she provided an overview of why and how university faculty from disciplines across the entire campus can drive innovation and entrepreneurship efforts.

The importance of entrepreneurial development

During her talk, Dr Bosman lays out the importance of entrepreneurship for all engineers:

The entrepreneurial mindset is an inclination to discover, evaluate and exploit opportunities. This is not just about startups; it is important for new product development as well as continuous improvement within a company and even in one’s personal life.

She believes engineers need to evolve from their traditional role of relying on corporate or scientific goals set by others. They must learn to bring their talents to bear much earlier in the development process. For example, President John F Kennedy set the target of reaching the moon in the early 1960s. The US government, defense contractors, and the corporate world enthusiastically supported the fulfillment of this goal. In short order, thousands of engineers were tasked with solving the many riddles involved in taking a lunar journey. Within a few years, Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and history was made.

“We need to move away from being obedient engineers that build what we are told to thinking strategically, asking questions, and thinking about the why,” Dr Bosman said. “That means original designs that fulfill customer desires, are technically feasible, and can achieve business viability.”

She outlined several strategies to help engineers and students develop their own entrepreneurial mindset.

  • Value identification, for example, involves engaging in continuous improvement activities aimed at greater success, measurement of progress to track performance, and formalizing efforts into tangible projects with specific targets in mind. For example, Dr Bosman encourages her students to create individual development plans for their lives and careers. She recommends that students spend some time researching organizations with interesting mission statements, visions and strategies. Based on the examples they find, students are then told to write up their own personal mission statements and development plans, ensuring that they integrate elements of the entrepreneurial mindset.

  • Skills development is another facet of the entrepreneurial mindset — and one that relates closely to other factors. For example, students need to develop sufficient self-confidence so they will implement what they know and be willing to voice their opinions without fear of ridicule. They must find ways to build that self-confidence by learning new skills and broadening their own knowledge foundations.

  • Resource development is also crucial. Dr Bosman emphasizes that students must expand the number of resources at their disposal. This encompasses access to external experts, mentors and events, as well as proven knowledge repositories that offer the latest research and curated materials across multiple disciplines. Elsevier solutions such as Geofacets, Knovel and ScienceDirect provide easy access to up-to-date information, including research that students can use to devise innovation solutions to solve the challenges of the future.

“Students and engineers need wider access to knowledge,” Dr Bosman said. “This helps them develop their entrepreneurial mindset by improving their ability to learn from different areas.”

Lisa Bosman, PhD

Dr Lisa Bosman(opens in new tab/window) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology Leadership and Innovation at Purdue University and founder of iAGREE Labs (Inclusive, Applied, and Grounded Research in Entrepreneurially Minded Education). With a PhD in Industrial Engineering, she spent the first part of her career working as a manufacturing engineer for world-class companies including Harley-Davidson, John Deere and Oshkosh Defense. Her research interests focus on integrating the entrepreneurial mindset into learning experiences through teaching and curriculum development, educator professional development, and real-world applied learning. She is the co-author of Teaching the Entrepreneurial Mindset Across the University: An Integrative Approach(opens in new tab/window) (Springer, 2021).


Lisa Bosman, PhD


Portrait photo of Keith Hayes


Keith Hayes

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