The Entrepreneurial Mindset

For our students to fully understand the impact of their work on the world, they need to be curious about the world and their place in it. They need to make connections between their gifts and talents, and the opportunities for change. They need to understand how value is defined and by whom. The entrepreneurial mindset understands all of these lenses.
- Kris Ropella, Dean, Marquette University

What do we mean by Entrepreneurial Mindset?

An entrepreneurial mindset (EM) is a collection of mental habits. These include an attentiveness toward opportunities and a focus on their impact, all with the intention of creating value. 

EM equips people to identify opportunities and create value in any context. This learned behavior is a way of thinking about the world and acting upon what you see. 

EM empowers you to question, adapt, think differently, and make positive change. This can be related to entrepreneurship, but is not exclusive to new ventures.


Why EM for engineers?

Engineers with an entrepreneurial mindset transform the world. Engineers with this mindset understand the bigger picture, can recognize opportunities, evaluate markets, and learn from mistakes to create value for themselves and others.

Think about a recent technical achievement. An engineer almost certainly contributed to it. Engineers work with a wide range of businesses to deliver solutions at scale. They collaborate with chemists, doctors, and elected officials. They have the potential to make a positive impact on society and the world around them. 

EM amplifies the work that engineers already do. Entrepreneurially minded engineers are powerful agents of societal good. They understand stakeholder needs. They have the skillset to design and build solutions. Such engineers recognize problems as opportunities, assess the potential impact of solutions, and use their skills to create value for others. 

In this video, learn more about why engineers are uniquely equipped to be change agents. 

Every engineer added to a metropolitan community creates five additional jobs, the most powerful economic multiplier in any professional category. Their engineering skillset allows them to design, build, and implement solutions. By coupling an entrepreneurial mindset with engineering skillset, engineers can make a real, lasting impact.

Equally, institutions of higher learning are frequently hubs of innovation and value creation. The entrepreneurial engineering approach allows students to co-create with faculty members. Faculty in turn re-imagine courses, labs, and activities – and find greater fulfillment in the process. 

EM allows institutions to be faithful to their original charter while preparing graduates for an ever-changing world.

Montana State

The 3C's of Entrepreneurial Mindset

EM consists of three key elements: Curiosity, Connections, and Creating Value. These are the 3C’s of entrepreneurial mindset. This emergent understanding came from years of work with KEEN faculty, students, and industry. 

Entrepreneurially minded individuals:

  • Have a constant curiosity about our changing world and employ a contrarian view of accepted solutions.
  • Habitually connect information from many sources to gain insight and manage risk.
  • Create value for others from unexpected opportunities as well as persist through, and learn from, failure.

Person holding globe

Curiosity

Understand the broader world. Look toward the future. Explore multiple perspectives.

Today’s solutions are often obsolete tomorrow. Students must be empowered to investigate a rapidly changing world with an insatiable curiosity.
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Connections

Think outside the box. Place old ideas in new contexts. Gain insights.

Discoveries alone are not enough. Students must habitually pursue knowledge and integrate it with their own discoveries to reveal innovative solutions.
Solar panels blue sky

Creating Value

Seek opportunities. Understand stakeholders. Have a positive impact.

Innovative solutions are most meaningful when they create extraordinary value for others. Students must be champions of value creation.

A Framework for Entrepreneurial Mindset

The KEEN Framework is a guide to entrepreneurially minded learning. This document has been used by thousands of faculty to create educational materials and teaching concepts that equip students with an entrepreneurial mindset.

Within the Framework you will find a starter-set of mindset and skillset learning outcomes. The skillsets correspond with the design spine that you are familiar with. Here students understand the importance of opportunity and impact in the context of design. These situational skills can lead to dispositional changes within students. They are the building-blocks for EM.

Additionally, the Framework outlines the 3C’s student learning outcomes. These outcomes are how you infuse entrepreneurially minded learning into your courses. 

These learning outcomes cultivate curiosity, empower students to make connections, and promote value creation.

Framework Mindset Skillset Bike

Mindset is a Key to Success

Think about your graduates. Was their success in jobs and careers solely reliant on their technical skills? 

While jobs require technical skills, EM is a key contributor to individual success and a fulfilling career. However, EM is not intentionally taught in engineering courses in the same way that we teach technical skills. 

Our Engineering Unleashed community focuses on instilling the entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation of engineers. By coupling this mindset with engineering skills, future engineers are able to be tomorrow’s leaders. They will be equipped to solve societal problems and create an environment for human flourishing.

In this video, designed for students, we explore the effects of entrepreneurial vs traditional engineering.

Entrepreneurial engineering emphasizes discovery, opportunity identification, and value creation. Entrepreneurially minded learning does not sacrifice technical knowledge. Instead, it can be coupled with other pedagogical approaches to inspire shifts in mindset. Graduates benefit from this approach. They are able to evaluate market needs, societal trends, and technical feasibility. 

Risk and uncertainty are also part of entrepreneurial thinking. Your students will face personal risks, market risks, opportunity costs, demands from stakeholders; the list goes on. An entrepreneurial mindset can help them manage these risks and be comfortable with uncertainty.

Andrew Maynard, Director for the Risk Innovation Lab in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, examines the risks and benefits of emerging technologies. While such technologies could improve our lives, their very strangeness can also cause fear. 

This is just one example of how educators can empower students to put decisions in context and explore the ethical, economic, and other impacts of engineering decisions. This is an integral part of EM. 


Wichita State students
I knew what I wanted to be: A philanthropist, a leader, an entrepreneur. In other words, an engineer.
- Nahom Fissaha '18, James Madison University

What Do Companies Want From Engineers?

Communication. Creativity. Adaptability. Leadership. Entrepreneurial Mindset.

Companies who hire your graduates want them to be equipped with a broad set of skills. Your students need professional skills along with their technical acumen. 

Teaching EM will help your students listen to stakeholders, ask the right questions, and understand the needs of others. Many faculty find teaching with EM in mind also helps students work better within teams and equips them to communicate more effectively.  

Bob Baker, former Senior Vice President of Technology & Manufacturing at Intel, talks about why entrepreneurial mindset benefits engineers and the companies that employ them

Entrepreneurially minded learning helps students adapt and engage in a changing world of work. It gives them the “Why” to enhance the “How” in what they do. The White House and National Academy of Engineering have called for more innovation and entrepreneurship activities to bolster the economy. 

The Engineering Unleashed community is invested in more than just teaching for what industry wants. The characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset provide a deeper sense of meaning for your students. They won’t just deliver a product. They’ll create value.


Western New England students
University of San Diego KNAP chair
Clarkson University

Resources

Engineering Unleashed is a community that is built around sharing best practices for entrepreneurially minded learning. You don’t have to start at square one. In fact, the community has created a library of resources related to the 3C’s of entrepreneurial mindset. From exemplars to works-in-progress, faculty from across the country (and world) are helping each other to develop resources that fit a variety of contexts. 

Here are some examples: