Entrepreneurship and Engineering

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The DEL’s research on entrepreneurship in engineering is conducted with support from the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, or Epicenter. Epicenter is funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 1125457) and directed by Stanford University and VentureWell (formerly the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance). Epicenter’s mission is to empower U.S. undergraduate engineering students to bring their ideas to life for the benefit of our economy and society.

Stanford University Professors Sheri Sheppard, Tom Byers, and Kathy Eisenhardt are the Principal Investigators of the Epicenter initiative.




Over the past three years, the Epicenter Research Team has been conducting a set of large, multi-method, national studies of entrepreneurship in engineering collectively known as the Fostering Innovative Generations Studies, or FIGS. As part of FIGS, the team is pursuing three major Research Questions (RQs). Each of these questions addresses an important gap in existing knowledge about entrepreneurship education for engineers:

  • an examination of how entrepreneurship programs for engineers work from the ground up (RQ1);
  • an exploration of how engineering students’ innovation and entrepreneurial interests evolve over time and are influenced by educational and workplace experiences (RQ2); and
  • a study of how engineering students and faculty perceive and learn entrepreneurial content in traditional technical environments (RQ3).

Here is a summary of our three core questions:

Research Question 1 - Program Models

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What are current models of educating engineers for entrepreneurship/entrepreneurial thinking?

In this research, the unit of analysis is the entrepreneurship program, and the focus is on programmatic contexts for entrepreneurship learning. This mixed-methods research builds on the work of Standish-Kuon and Rice (2002), Shartrand et al. (2010), Besterfield-Sacre et al. (2011), and Duval-Couetil, Shartrand, and Reed (forthcoming).

See here for a link to our recent presentation on RQ1 at the OPEN 2014 conference in San Jose, CA.

Research Question 2 - Students' Interests and Goals

What are undergraduate engineering students’ innovation and entrepreneurial interests, abilities, and achievements? How do these interests, abilities, and achievements change over time? Which educational and workplace environments/experiences influence the development of their innovation and entrepreneurial interests, abilities, and achievements?

Here the unit of analysis is the student, and the focus is on the development of student interests in innovation and entrepreneurship as measured by behaviors, attitudes, experiences, and career goals. This is conceived as a longitudinal, survey-based project that builds on the work of Damon and Lerner (2008), Eesley (2011), Duval-Couetil, Reed-Rhoads, and Haghighi (2012), among others. Our longitudinal survey will be launched in Winter 2015 to engineering students at upwards of 25 institutions across the U.S.

We also have been working with colleagues at Tufts University and Stanford University to analyze and compare engineering and business students’ entrepreneurial intentions as part of their Young Entrepreneurs Study (YES). This has resulted in one award-winning conference paper (see Jin et al.) and two journal manuscripts under review/in progress.

Research Question 3 - Curriculum Development

How can fundamental engineering curricula be reframed to stimulate integrative thinking, especially entrepreneurial thinking?

In this research, the unit of analysis is the technical engineering classroom (inclusive of faculty, students, and curricula), and the focus is on the process of entrepreneurship learning in the context of a statics course. This work draws from Kolb’s learning theory and studies of scenario-based learning experiences. This research has resulted in an award-winning conference paper (see Schar et al.) .

Initially tested at Stanford, the Scenario Based Learning techniques in this research are currently being rolled out and tested at University of Wisconsin (Madison) and UC-Merced.

Research Community

Another top goal of the Epicenter Research Team has been to build and strengthen a community of entrepreneurship researchers, particularly in and around engineering. We have framed this as our fourth FIGS study; here, our research question is "What are the most effective strategies for fostering connections and community in the engineering entrepreneurship space?"

As part of our work, we have designed and hosted several events to bring together entrepreneurship researchers from a variety of backgrounds. We held three sessions at OPEN 2012, OPEN 2013, and OPEN 2014, respectively, to introduce attendees to the latest research and evaluation in the field.

In May 2012, we hosted an Epicenter Research Workshop at Stanford, where we brought together 27 scholars, leaders, and students in the fields of engineering and entrepreneurship education for an intensive, day-long workshop. In August 2014, we hosted the first Epicenter Research Summit, again at Stanford. The Summit included 70 researchers and practitioners from the U.S. and Europe.

Our Epicenter Research Team includes:

Sheri Sheppard
Principal Investigator
Epicenter at Stanford University
Anna Breed
Stanford University
Helen L. Chen
Stanford University
Emanuel Costache
SageFox Consulting
Carolyn Estrada
Shannon Gilmartin
Stanford University
Michelle Grau
Nueva School
Qu Jin
Stanford University
Angela Harris
Stanford University
Mark Schar
Stanford University
Angela Shartrand
George Toye
Stanford University
Autumn Turpin
Stanford University
Ari Turrentine


Our Senior Research Advisors are:

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