Commercialization and replication of engineering developments are very important in scientific and engineering activity. It’s being discussed but no actual practices of preparation of engineering entrepreneurs are found. Tomsk Polytechnic University is a good exception. Here the divisions have prepared engineering entrepreneurs for several years. We talked about it with their chiefs.
Stepan Hachin, the head of TPU engineering Entrepreneurship department
Own researches are affordable only for big international companies. Small companies understand that they should work more effectively with universities to learn the modern scientific material. The scientist is not interested in anything but fundamental things. However they have to be led to the final decision. Shumpeter assigned this role to an entrepreneur defining him as a person who wants and is able to convert new ideas into a successful innovation.
An entrepreneur should know about many insignificant ready decisions to use them in unique business models. Several priority scientific fields are being worked over at Tomsk Polytechnic University at a good world level: nondestructive control, rational use of mineral wealth, information technical systems, energy. Our department is a through structure to form environment where scientists think like entrepreneurs and to help idea to go beyond laboratories.
Till this year we existed as a separate unit – the Institute of Engineering Entrepreneurship. But then we were integrated and four different institutes of TPU were united to the Institute of Social Humanitarian Technologies where we became a department. After reorganization we kept all our fields and thus increased in a number of teachers and students. For today 55 teachers (including 6 PhDs and 21 candidates), about 600 students and 80 learners are at our organization.
The Institute of Engineering Entrepreneurship was established in 2009. It’s important to understand what engineering entrepreneurship is, and what directions it will develop to. Then we have allocated two units. The first one is an engineering component, i.e. how the fundamental or applied scientific result can be converted into a product. The second one is how to work with this product, to launch it at the market. The school of the applied system analysis and theory of inventive problem solving is allocated in the first block, and in the second one - innovative marketing, improvement of business processes (economical manufacture, cloudy technologies, quality management system) and project management. In Siberia, by the way, nobody is involved into the normal system education of project managers. Therefore, these 5 directions are present at our department. Each of them has an external federal research manager. As a result, if to have a look at the innovative project development we turn out to support a team from idea to the first investments.
Another component of our activity is creation of appropriate environment. When a person lives in usual conditions, it is useless to tell him about business and ingenuity. But as soon as he is pulled out of it and surrounded with businessmen, he adopts their competence communicating with them, and the effect turns out much bigger, rather than the standard educational program.
Veniamin Kizeyev, the head of «Engineering Business Polygon»
Polygon is the author's project started by three of us. In youth all of us represented the student administration and established student committees in Russia. We visited different cities, formed teams supporting them later. Then we launched this business project. We thought over the most perspective to be engaged, and decided that it is human resources. When the Institute of Engineering Entrepreneurship appeared, we have joined it with our ideas. Thus each of us has own business. For example, I have five retail shops, two consulting enterprises. Sometimes one business disappear, others appear. I had construction business, but it was time-consuming, and I decided to close it.
Now our team consists of nine people, including technical employees and commercial partners.
As for working with students I think that a lecture form of the educational process died. Information transferred to students or businessmen should be accepted as useless. Therefore we realize the scheme involving students, young businessmen and inventors to organize their projects.
Actually, we represent a structure gathering human, enterprise, inventive and financial resources in one point. This is our principal activity. We work with students - assisting in realization of their innovative enterprise initiatives, and with TPU employees - promoting their projects. We connect teams of businessmen with inventors, we involve financing from different funds or private investors. Students with an enterprise talent are often simply pushed out from modern universities. They leave the second year and go to business. Their main question: “What for I’m wasting my time here, if I get nothing?” The current situation at Tomsk Polytechnic is different: almost all students know what entrepreneurship is and where to go to realize own project.
Our work is organized like this: if a student has an idea of an enterprise or innovative project, he comes to us, and we start to work over its development. Often the student says that he wants to be engaged in entrepreneurship, but what exactly he does not know. We look how to form his career, what projects to offer. Sometimes projects of students, post-graduate students or employees are to say the least ridiculous. In this case we offer them our projects, or reserved in TPU scientific projects.
When I hear saying that young scientists should be engaged in technological business I think this is a utopia. If they did not make business, if they did not have a scent for dealing with money, they will not make technological business – they will stay with grants or something like this. Now guys who opened the pizzerias, restaurants come back and say: now we are ready to play with these innovations. We have money, contacts, and we think it is boring just to have restaurants, we want something more. And we are sure that they can increase technological business.
It is more complicated to work with inventors. As a rule, they believe in having the best project in the world. We had to explain about competitors, market and why this project will not go. Then, we acquaint them with businessmen or project managers. After all more often an inventor cannot promote or sell, especially passing through the Soviet school.
It is a difficult days-long process. We always invite a person to our events to listen about entrepreneurship. The event form does not matter, whatever seminars, business trainings. The main essence is not to teach, but to create an atmosphere where people communicate and form teams. Entrepreneurship representatives and observers «scanning» everyone at these events to define: businessman or inventor will be in future. Then we launch projects, form teams, define participants’ roles.
To estimate projects, we cooperate with experts. Russian experts can assess most of projects giving adequate conclusion, especially in instrument and mechanical engineering.
We do not manage with anything connected with radio, the Internet or optics. If it is associated with the Internet, we communicate with the Silicon Valley. They understand over there trends and obsolete things. We have good relations with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with Boston Universities Group, with California - a part of projects is tested through them. We had projects understandable just for 16 people in the world.
Except expert teams, we cooperate with the companies, for example, such as «Matriz» with serious scientists-developers. We distribute also our personnel to these sites.