Engineering Entrepreneurs

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Read the full story by Kathryn Loconte Lapierre, published in the Fall 2013 issue of Dartmouth Engineer.

When Thayer School of Engineering debuted the PhD Innovation Program five years ago in 2008, it created a novel solution to a national challenge: how to develop leaders with both technical and entrepreneurial expertise.

In the program, launched by Thayer School Dean Joseph Helble, students complete all the requirements of a traditional PhD, plus specialized studies that prepare them to build an enterprise based on technical innovation.

Geneva Trotter

Geneva Trotter, a student in the PhD Innovation Program, is working on developing new alloys for environmentally friendly energy conversion applications. (Photo by Kathryn Loconte Lapierre/Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth)

“Students learn about intellectual property, funding, capitalization, cash-flow issues, how to operate a business, management practices, ethics, how to hire a good team, how to balance an organization, and how to be a leader,” says the program’s faculty coordinator, Professor Eric Fossum, an inventor, entrepreneur, and CEO with decades of experience commercializing technologies.

In courses such as ENGM 180: “Corporate Finance” and ENGM 188: “Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship,” Innovation Program students learn about patents, intellectual property, contracts, copyright, and trademarks. They learn the language of business.

In the capstone course ENGG 321: “Introduction to Innovation,” Innovation Program students go through the steps of creating their own startup. “If a student has the opportunity to do something entrepreneurial, understanding how business works—how technology and innovation really go from an idea to a product—is important. It’s critical that they have the knowledge of how the whole process comes together,” says Fossum.

Dartmouth Engineer spoke with eight PhD Innovation Program students, including Geneva Trotter, about how the program has prepared them for the future.

Geneva Trotter

Research Advisor: Ian Baker, the Sherman Fairchild Professor of Engineering

Research: I’m working on novel high-temperature austenitic alloys for energy conversion applications. The right alloys would allow the construction of power plants that operate at higher temperature, are more efficient, and are more environmentally friendly due to decreased CO2 emission.

Why the Innovation Program: I wanted to gain the knowledge base necessary to take ownership of any technological innovations I work on in the future. Professor Fossum and other entrepreneurs provide us with encouragement and the necessary straight talk we need to hear so we’re better equipped to take on future challenges.

Startup Idea: For ENGG 321 I proposed a company that would provide coal-fired power plants with enhanced and low-cost tubing based on a novel Laves-phase-strengthened steel. The goal was to help meet energy industry needs nationally, with an outlook to expanding abroad. I analyzed market demands, gained insight into the current energy landscape, and was able to talk with key individuals who contribute to and impact the coal-fired power-plant industry.

Take-aways: I’m learning things that will help me for whatever business I might decide to work in. Sitting with people who have actually brought something to fruition, I’ve learned about the sacrifices and judgments they’ve made along the way. When you hear the stories, it’s always just, ‘Oh, and they invented this.’ But it’s not that simple. There are a lot of steps involved. There are people who contribute to your success. The program is helping me decide where I want to go with my research and how to plan my future projects.