Becoming a faculty fellow at Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship will provide Lauren Cooper the skills to infuse more entrepreneurship and innovation into her classes, the mechanical engineering assistant professor said.
“I became a faculty fellow because innovation excites me – I love coming up with crazy ideas!” Cooper said. “For me, the community of CIE faculty fellows and students feels like a ‘safe’ place to share my ideas and encourage the ideas of others.”
Cooper joins fellow College of Engineering educators Hani Alzraiee (Civil) and Chris Heylman (Biomedical) in the 2019-2020 cohort of new fellows. Javin Oza (Chemistry & Biochemistry) is the fourth newest member.
The CIE was formed in 2010 to provide students the tools needed to innovate and create startups. Since then, over 100 companies have started, creating over 1,000 jobs.
The CIE Faculty Fellow program began in 2012 to help build the university’s entrepreneurship culture. Many of the fellows bring their own startup and innovation experience to the table.
“Our technical expertise and frequent interaction with members of industry can help us to guide students to best identify needs in the market to pursue,” Heylman said. “Additionally, many of the CIE faculty fellows are former and/or current entrepreneurs themselves, who have walked the same path and can share their best practices and missteps with students.”
Teaching biomedical senior design and fostering the development of potential new products, Heylman has witnessed plenty of student potential – and is excited to nurture it even more.
“I’ve had the opportunity to see some of the technology and devices designed and manufactured in senior design continue their development as part of student-founded businesses,” he said.
While many students have excellent ideas that can lead to businesses, Alzraiee said, they often need help – something faculty fellows can provide.
“Many students are not aware of the available resources at Cal Poly in the area of innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “As a CIE faculty fellow, I am looking to direct our students to these opportunities and help them break the silo so they can build stronger and more collaborative relationships with students and faculty from other departments.”
The CIE also encourages faculty fellows to work with each other. Cooper, for example, is already working with fellows from architecture and ag business on a project designing spaces that will encourage mental wellness.
While that is a specific idea, Cooper said, students don’t need to come to CIE with a concrete plan.
“Students can join the community without needing to have some ‘big idea,’” Cooper said. “They can come with just a curious spirit and a desire to learn about innovation, entrepreneurship, and to find new friends.”
The real-world experience students get at the CIE helps instill an entrepreneurial mindset that will be helpful even if they don’t launch startups, said John Townsend, CIE’s executive director.
“That mindset makes them more resourceful, collaborative and emotionally ready to be a highly valued member at their employer of choice,” Townsend said.
At the same time, several businesses have sprung from the CIE that could have a wide impact. Those include Flume, which creates a device that helps customers measure water usage, Neocharge, which developed a way to share power between an electric car and a dryer, and De Oro Devices, which created a product to help patients with Parkinson’s Disease overcome a condition known as “freezing of gait.”
While CIE works with students from all colleges, engineering students are most represented, he said.
“Engineering students work with their peers from each of the other colleges, to solve real problems,” he said. “It’s a powerful combination of talent with no bounds to success.”
Engineering is also well represented among faculty fellows. Those include Bob Crocket (associate dean for innovation infrastructure), Dale Dolan (Electrical), David Janzen (Computer Science), Lynne Slivovsky (Computer Engineering), and Michael Whitt (Biomedical).