Opportunity Recognition

Why you need to plug in this missing piece

Small_Mike_Rust_4.png Contributed by: Mike Rust, Western New England University. ©2022 Engineering Unleashed Blog

“…and that’s an overview of the low-cost hematocrit measurement system we developed this year. What do you think?” 

I pause for a second. I want to give the deep-pocketed angel investor, who is standing in front of my poster, a chance to gather his thoughts. After all, I’ve just spent the past 7 minutes going over the wonderful new technology my students and I have developed. I’m sure he wants to ask me a detailed question about our data analysis methods. Or our projected battery lifetime for field deployment. I’m ready for those questions. 

I take a sip of water, and straighten my tie. Let’s do this. 

“Cool project,” he says. His eyes scan across the poster again. “But can you answer one question for me?” 

“Sure,” I reply. “Fire away.” 

This is a good sign. Angel investment, here we come! 

“What’s hematocrit?” 

The sound you are hearing is my investment pitch going down in flames.

What went wrong?

I’ve just spent the last 7 minutes talking about an exciting new technology we developed, including our R&D effort and results from our early prototypes. 

Pretty reasonable things for an engineer to talk about when sharing their work, no doubt. 

But I failed at the most basic aspect of this presentation.

I did not consider my audience. 

I forgot that hematocrit is a fairly technical term, one that would resonate with folks in the healthcare space (such as biomedical engineers), but not the general public. It refers to how much of a patient’s blood volume is composed of red blood cells, and is helpful in diagnosing a variety of conditions such as anemia. But I skipped all of that, and jumped straight into the technology. 

So the deep-pocketed angel investor had literally no idea what I was talking about for the past several minutes. And more to the point, he had no idea why I was working on this project.

Why didn’t I tell him about the prevalence of anemia worldwide, and the challenges that make it difficult to measure hematocrit in low-resource environments? Or why our low-cost approach could be useful in lowering the burden of disease felt by communities in Central America, where I do a lot of my field work? I mean, that’s why I was working on the project. Shouldn’t I have started there? 

And why didn’t I talk about the opportunity that this project could provide for the angel investor’s portfolio, should he choose to invest. After all, that’s why he was here at this conference. 

So yeah, that pitch didn’t go so well.

  Opportunity Recognition

I think about this failure a lot, and refer to it regularly when helping students prepare for their own presentations. 

I tell them, “Don’t do what I did. Know your audience, and communicate your work in a way that will resonate with them. Because you never know when you’ll get a few minutes with a deep-pocketed investor, and you want to be ready to take that opportunity.” 

So this failure also serves as a reminder to me about opportunity recognition

Opportunity recognition is a key aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset. 

In addition to the technical skills we cultivate in our students, we want to foster their mindset to be value creators.

This is especially true in a dynamic, ever-changing world, where engineers must be agile in anticipating how to meet needs: Customer, societal, and more.

  Activities & Projects

Bring opportunity recognition to your classroom.

How do we train our students (and ourselves) to identify opportunities? How do we communicate the value of those opportunities in both economic terms and societal benefits?

Use these ideas across a variety of engineering courses and topics.

Recognition Resources

Generate New Ideas

Ideation Techniques

Ideation Toolkit