“Learning by doing” leads to successful entrepreneurship

Thousands of Silicon Valley students are becoming successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs thanks to entrepreneurship being integrated into their engineering degree programmes. Can we learn from this concept and do the same in Sweden?

(Foto: ©Carnegie Mellon University. All rights reserved)

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Silicon Valley has successfully integrated entrepreneurship as a natural aspect of its engineering programmes to meet the demand for graduate engineers who also understand the business world. Sheryl Root, Associate Professor and Program Director at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), and one of the initiators of the concept, was a guest at IVA earlier this year to talk more about the university’s Master’s programme at a meeting with Swedish entrepreneurship educators.

The Master of Science in Technology Ventures (MSTV) combines theoretical studies in AI, quantum physics, robotics, biomedicine and other technical subjects with practical experience and courses specifically aimed at entrepreneurship.

“There is a big demand for engineers, but it’s important for them to have a broad range of skills. Engineers these days need to understand business, communicate with marketing managers and solve problems in a different way,” said Sheryl Root during the digital meeting.

CMU has created a programme to develop these skills in which teams consisting of students from a variety of disciplines have an opportunity to work together on solving society’s challenges and then develop the solutions into commercial ventures.

“This is done by encouraging students to ‘learn by doing’. The university provides an environment where knowledge and skills in engineering sciences, technology and design are combined with business leadership,” said Root.

This collaboration benefits both students and other actors

Silicon Valley has a mix of innovative companies, investors and alumni who are contributing their knowledge and capital to the programme. The university’s educators have all been active in business and have practical experience of enterprise, entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

“The participating companies see significant benefits in the CMU collaboration because it puts them into contact with students who they often then recruit,” said Root.

CMU also puts students in touch with potential investors at an early stage. This gives the students an opportunity to pitch their ideas and modify them based on feedback from the investors.

“The students get tools to solve problems and develop products and services, but they also learn how to present and communicate their ideas effectively,” said Root.

Examples of successful collaboration

Volvo Group Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley is working with CMU by offering summer internships to the university’s students. Jenny Elfsberg, Head of Innovation Management at Vinnova, worked previously at the Silicon Valley hub and maintains that the students’ knowledge mix helped them identify new solutions to problems, without specific instructions from Volvo.

“The internships are in the form of teams of three students with different focus areas. They are given free range to work on problem-solving based on their knowledge. This method was a big success,” said Jenny Elfsberg.

Sheryl Root’s tips for success in setting up a similar education concept in Sweden:

  1. Driven individuals at the universities are needed who can market the proposal and present successful examples.
  2. Make use of the networks that employees and others connected to the university have. The process requires businesses, investors and mentors.
  3. See the students as customers and clarify which factors are needed in order for them to be satisfied.
  4. Satisfied students often become dedicated alumni who can contribute to the concept’s success. They have a lot to give and can be a valuable resource for new students.

“And don’t forget physical meetings. They fill a vital function, even if the digital tools have significantly facilitated various types of contacts and meetings,” said root.        

The webinar took place in May 2021 as part of IVA’s work towards the vision of entrepreneurship being a common theme throughout the Swedish education system. A significant aspect of IVA’s work in this area involves providing a forum for representatives for successful examples to inspire and share their knowledge.

Contact information

Maria Saker
Project Manager
Phone +46 8-791 29 65