Engineers learn to launch innovative products, not rockets

While the Faculty of Engineering prides itself on being able to prepare students to accomplish such complex tasks as putting rockets into space, launching a product or service idea into the market can be equally as challenging. But starting up a technologically-based company is not part of the regular curriculum.

That’s changing thanks to the work of the EngInE, the Faculty’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship hub that is encouraging technological entrepreneurship for students and professors through education, funding, mentorship and networking events, and recently ran its first Lean Launchpad workshop.

The EngInE is also encouraging technological innovation through increased R&D collaborations with industry via its matching and partnering services between companies, from start-ups to multi-nationals, with Engineering professors and their graduate students.

Twelve mixed student and professor teams took part in the workshop run by Professor Michael Avedesian, the EngInE’s technological Entrepreneur-in-Residence. The seasoned entrepreneur walked the teams through the initial steps of getting started on the path to commercializing their ideas and research using lean start-up methodologies. Topics covered included creating vision, developing strategy, customer development, leap-of-faith hypotheses, product market fit, and using the minimum viable product (MVP) as a starting point.

“The workshop far surpassed my expectations. It was very engaging and my students and I came out very inspired to pursue a start-up based on our technology,” said Professor Nathalie Tufenkji, one of last year’s recipients of the WRSA for her work and that of her post-doc Dr. Vimal Maisuria on Maple Syrup Extract to Reduce Antibiotic Resistance.

Student participants were also enthusiastic. “Getting feedback from an expert like Professor Avedesian is crucial at the early stages of the startup and definitely helped us focus in on what’s most important,” said Will Lepry, PhD student in Materials Engineering and also winner of this year’s L’OREAL Dobson Startup Award Winner along with his research supervisor Professor Showan Nazhat.

This is the fourth workshop that the EngInE has run this year so far, with the other three devoted to web programming to help students interested in creating their own or working at web start-up companies.  Another Lean Launchpad workshop is scheduled for June. Workshops are currently run on an invitation-only basis as participants are actively working on commercializing their technologies, but the program is poised to expand.

“We have been getting tremendous response from participants, whether its student-driven start-ups or professors in the process of commercializing some of their research,” explained Katya Marc, Industry Liaison Manager at the Faculty of Engineering and manager of the EngInE. “We’ve already had over 140 people participate in the workshops this year, and through the TechAccel grant program, we can directly support innovative student-led technologically-based business ideas as well.  We are also about to launch the TechAccelR for professor-led inventions.” She urges all entrepreneurs-to-be to find out more about the initiative, and to take part if they are interested.

The McGill EngInE, the Faculty of Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship hub focuses on stimulating technologically-based innovation and entrepreneurship at McGill in collaboration with the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, the McGill Office of Innovation, and the McGill Innovation Constellation