Abstract

A confluence of disruptive trends in the energy industry is creating an imperative for providers as well as all companies throughout the value-chain to innovate. Due to the physical and intellectual proximity of universities to cutting edge technology development universities are at the epicenter for the next generation of energy innovation and innovators. However, through traditional disciplinary coursework and research activities, today’s engineering faculty and students do not gain the skills to be effective innovators and advance their inventions from the lab to the market. As a result, new methods of education and training is required to meet the energy innovation imperative.

The National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, which aims to develop critical innovator skills while aiding in the process of developing innovations that have potential to solve a market-based problems. The program is an intense workshop with the goal to develop a scalable business model around the invention by “getting out of the building” and conducting more than 100 interviews with potential customers and other key stakeholders to test hypotheses related to problems and value propositions. The evidence from those interviews is used to validate or invalidate hypotheses about the business model.

The present paper examines the I-Corps program as an evidence-based process to facilitate engineering education and innovation in the field of turbomachinery. Utilizing a case study approach, we analyze the experiences of PDCC Technologies, a university based startup trying to commercialize a high temperature material as a potential component of gas turbine engines. The journey through the program including key “aha” moments and lessons learned is retold based on the specific example. The paper concludes with a summary of value for students and faculty and remarks on the improvement of the engineering program itself.

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