When Engineers Build a Process of Innovation

I'm attending The Kern Entrepreneurship Education Network (KEEN) Winter Conference. The conference is a major component of the Kern Family Foundation's efforts to support an enterprise society through engineering education focused on students building an entrepreneurial mindset. One of the significant insights of the foundation is that a network of engineering schools focused on creating new practices and sharing is more powerful than handing out grants for individual projects.

 

Today I am surrounded by engineering faculty and administrators who understand the value of leveraging organizational process and human capabilities to develop students who are better able to design systems and tools that respond to customer, business, and societal needs.

KEEN Mission

..graduate engineers equipped with an action-oriented entrepreneurial mindset who will contribute to business success and transform the U.S. workforce.

The story starts in the 1950's when Robert Kern, his wife Patricia, and one assistant started a generator manufacturing business in a Wisconsin garage. The business grew into Generac Power Systems, producing more backup generators than all of their competitors combined.

Over the years, the Kerns found it difficult to recruit engineers aligned with the company's focus on continuous innovation. They looked for causes of this shortfall saw an educational landscape focused more on technical capabilities and less on developing an entrepreneurial mindset that "resonate[s] with the excitement of the unknown."

They created the Kern Family Foundation to focus on systemic educational change with broad, long-term impact.  Our first two keynotes have been examples of entrepreneurs, who happen to be engineers, but more importantly who have been successful by creating systems of innovation, not single products.

Infrastructure and process are key to the KEEN perspective and I'm very much looking forward to our discussion of Tinker Labs this afternoon. More to follow...

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