When you combine an engineering professor who goes above and beyond in her teaching methods and a group of students interested in learning how to create their own business, the possibilities are endless.
Dr. Amy Hsiao teaches Business Planning and Strategy in an Entrepreneurial Environment to Term 8 engineering students. As the name suggests, the course introduces students to the concepts, issues and themes related to business planning, strategy and entrepreneurship. What is not evident on the surface; however, is how Dr. Hsiao takes the course curriculum to the next level treating her students – or as she refers to them, ‘future entrepreneurs’ – to high-profile, guest speakers who have been where her students are and have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs.
“Students can learn from lectures, textbooks, case studies, etc. and that’s great. The guest speakers share experiences and knowledge that can’t always be captured by explicit knowledge, and can only be shared through interaction and engagement, i.e. what is not found in textbooks per se. That is why I bring in guest speakers – I believe that students learn from listening to, and observing, what the guest speakers – who are successful entrepreneurs in their own right – are saying,” explained Dr. Hsiao.
Recently, Dr. Hsiao’s ‘future entrepreneurs’ were brought together via Skype with Charles Adler, co-founder of Kickstarter, a funding platform for creative projects. Since its launch in 2009, the Kickstarter community has funded everything from films, games and music to art, design and technology.
“Crowdfunding combines the current trends of social networking, a do-it-yourself mentality, e-commerce and what I call ‘software for society’, and their idea has struck a big cord with the market. The experience of using Kickstarter is what keeps customers coming back and sharing the idea with others. Mr. Adler, in his very down-to-earth manner, communicated to my students in a very engaging way why he co-founded Kickstarter and how it has been successful; and, in general, he shared the intangibles of being an entrepreneur and pursuing your interests with passion, perseverance and practicality,” said Dr. Hsiao.
So, just how much impact do guest speakers such as Charles Adler have on engineering students, who are hoping to start their own companies someday and make a difference in society? Quite a bit, it turns out. Craig Lynch is a student in Dr. Hsiao’s class and took the course because he felt it would be different and thought it would be challenging to work outside of his element – in a business-focused environment.
“The most important thing that I took away from Mr. Adler's talk was to surround yourself with good people who can help you achieve your goals. Your friends tend to be like-minded people, so in order to achieve your goals it's important to surround yourself with people from different backgrounds and different ideas,” he said.
“Dr. Hsiao does a great job keeping the material interesting and making the class engaging. She shows videos and Dragon’s Den episodes and invites guest speakers, such as Charles Adler, to talk to us. She also encourages the class to ask lots of questions,” he added.
Other guest speakers, many of whom were once students in Dr. Hsiao’s ENGI 8607 class include Stephen Reddin, who co-founded Cambrai Solutions as part of the Wesley Clover network; Alex Brown, who co-founded Source Studio and became a Genesis Centre client; Dave Rhees, who co-founded Quidi Vidi Brewery; Randy Billard, co-founder of Virtual Marine Technologies; Maurice Tuff, serial entrepreneur and founder of Root Four Imagination Inc; Leonard Lye, serial inventor and entrepreneur of FootWorker; The Genesis Centre and the Research and Development Corporation.