This is my fourth post from 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. A major part of any effective change is tracking and evaluating the change. The KEEN schools are each involved in evaluating how their programs result in more entrepreneurial engineers. They are careful to note that they are not focused on creating engineering entrepreneurs -- but helping engineers develop an entrepreneurial mindset. They also note the importance of long-term evaluation. Their research involves thousands of engineers and will involve many more over the next years. As they note, this is data not available from any other source. I agree that this is a powerful resource and applaud their openness to involving other researchers in the process.


"Entrepreneurial Engineering is Not Engineering Entrepreneurship"

It is imperative to distinguish between teaching entrepreneurship and instilling the entrepreneurial mindset into engineering education. In contrast to preparing entrepreneurs, KEEN schools are preparing entrepreneurial engineers.

Entrepreneurship is self-employment through business ownership, which has significant elements of risk, control and reward. (This definition of entrepreneurship was coined by John Hughes, the Coleman Foundation's Chairman Emeritus.)

An entrepreneurially minded engineer (i.e. an engineer instilled with the entrepreneurial mindset) places product benefits before design features and leverages technology to fill unmet customer needs. The purpose of entrepreneurial engineering is to design value-added products and processes that create demand through innovation, resulting in positive cash flow, revenue, and regenerative profits for the enterprise producing the product. 

David Pistrui, Ph.D., of Acumen Dynamics presented early data comparing freshman engineers, practicing enegineers who have been identified as having an entrepreneurial mindset (EME), and practicing engineers from Minnetronix, a medical device company. The factors being compared are part of an on-going survey. Those presented here:

  • D=Dominance:
  • I=Interpersonal Skills
  • S=Steadiness
  • C=Compliance

Image used with permission from David Pistrui, Ph.D., Acumen Dynamics

Dominance and Steadiness show interesting results in that they vary, I believe significantly, across people who were nominated as having the entrepreneurial mindset and the other populations. My understanding of dominance is that it is about dominance over opposition in order to shape the environment. Steadiness is about cooperating with others within the current environmental situation to get the task done. My translation is that engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset will not leave well enough alone. They are more likely to give themselves permission to change the situation rather than working within given boundaries. (As the presenter, David Pistrui noted, it isn't surprising  that engineers from a medical device company would work within the given rules. It is a requirement of their situation.)

The ethics of entrepreneurial rule breaking have received some attention in past research. George Brenkert offers "Innovation, rule breaking and the ethics of entrepreneurship" and argues that "part of the creative destruction that entrepreneurs bring not only to the economy but also to morality." 

The reach and focus of the KEEN participants offer a unique opportunity to understand programmatic support of the entrpreneurial mindset. What would you suggest they study first?

Prior posts from conference: