A new ASME program aims to advance and reward the innovative and entrepreneurial strengths of young engineers.
by Howard Berkof
There's a bronze plaque on the wall at ASME headquarters that dates back to 1930 and commemorates the Society's 50th anniversary. Across the top is a motto: "What is not yet may be."
That's the title, we've read, of an address delivered in April of that year by ASME's president, Charles Piez. As pithy statements often do, the half-dozen words don't so much instruct us as make us think.
Perhaps they make us think of the inventive and entrepreneurial spirit in the best tradition of engineering. Consider individuals of the stature of Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Harvey Firestone, or some of the great partnerships-James Watt and Matthew Boulton, for instance, or Robert Fulton and Robert Livingstone. Their combination of inventiveness and entrepreneurial drive changed the world.
The term "entrepreneur" derives from an Old French verb that means "to undertake." It describes people who can take tasks under their guidance and follow through, whether they are the drivers of their own ventures or "intrapreneurs," who embody the spirit of enterprise as members of companies large or small.
A commemoration of ingenuity: A plaque marking ASME's 50th anniversary sums up the enterprising character of engineers. Photos courtesy of Jessica Mission
That spirit lies behind a new ASME program called Innovation Showcase. The event, also known as I-Show, will take place in Seattle a couple of days before the International Mechanical Engineering Congress opens. Ten teams of students from eight schools will present ideas to an audience that will include venture capitalists, early career engineers, students, and representatives of the community and industry. The teams will display and present their technological innovations to a judging panel comprising experienced entrepreneurs, industry executives, and leading experts. The judges will decide the best and most feasible ideas, and winners will receive industry recognition and seed funding.
I-Show was developed by the new ASME Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation. The competition came about because of a growing demand for ASME to provide its members with access to entrepreneurship education, and to encourage engineers to become advocates for innovation.
A total of $10,000 will be awarded to the top three winners. Corporate sponsors include IBM, Westinghouse, Boeing and Intellectual Ventures, which have all contributed to the financial awards.
Through the Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation, teams will be tracked closely following the competition and asked to report on their progress toward commercialization.
ASME worked with two groups with similar aims to create the program. One partner, called Idea to Product, or I2P, is a technology commercialization plan competition based at the University of Texas in Austin. The other partner is the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance.
As its name implies, NCIIA aims to see invention and innovation encouraged in higher education. It also supports programs that promote entrepreneurship. According to the organization, its founding premise is that "invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship are essential components of the higher education curriculum and vital to the nation's economic future." The NCIIA is funded by the Lemelson Foundation.
According to Patti Jo Snyder, ASME's manager of Strategic Initiatives and New Products, the 10 finalists were selected by a panel of experts from a field of 13 that entered projects for the first round of the event. The two principal criteria for selection, she said, were technical innovation and commercial potential.
According to the committee of volunteers who oversee the event, the vision of the I-Show is to be the premier technology entrepreneurship showcase event to inspire engineers and future engineers to be product and corporate innovators. Providing a "real world" educational experience to all engineering and science students, the I-Show program is designed to ensure that the workforce generation of tomorrow has the skills and knowledge to be entrepreneurs and company intrapreneurs, to be creative, and to understand the process and have the skills needed to take an idea to commercialization. The I-Show is different from a business plan competition because the focus is innovation, prototyping, intellectual property protection, and commercialization.
These are the teams and projects, which will be presented to the judges in Seattle on Nov. 9, two days before IMECE opens.
Washington State University; plastic mesocombustors: Studies have shown that combustion reactors require thin walls with low thermal conductivity for maximum performance at small scales and low temperatures. Standard metallic or ceramic reactors have high thermal conductivity and poor stability at small thicknesses. Polyimide plastics are a viable alternative, as they have the added advantages of low cost, durability, and good electrical insulation properties.
Washington State University; retractable hydrofoil kits: The kits are designed to add hydrofoils to existing pleasure boats. Hydrofoils can minimize wake wash and provide as much as a twofold increase in hydrodynamic efficiency, ensuring a smoother ride and saving gas.
Oregon State University; Portia-Eye, microchannel heat sinks: A critical aspect of cooling at the microscale level is determining if the cooling substance is in liquid phase, vapor phase, or both. The Portia-Eye device provides an accurate and non-intrusive way of determining the liquid/vapor ratio using reflected and refracted light. Based on the resulting data, changes can be made to the cooling system to make it more efficient.
University of Idaho; Sleep Sound: Embedding a variable inductor into sleepwear, this technology detects breathing abnormalities in infants. A signal is sent from a circuit on the clothing to a base unit from which an alarm sounds if no breathing movements are detected for a set length of time.
Penn State University; i-Conserve: Technologies wirelessly monitor energy usage and building conditions to increase efficiency and reduce energy costs.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; STOMP (Scanning, Thermal, and Optical Measurement Platform): Designed for diabetic patients, STOMP provides a complete analysis and visual readout of a person's foot. The device will monitor the condition of a patient over a period of time, providing an assessment in a user-friendly display.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Greensulate: Greensulate is a new insulating material made of perlite bonded into a composite board by the growth of a benign fungus. The growth of the fungus holds the insulating particles in place, resulting in a lightweight panel that has insulating properties comparable to existing products on the market.
St. Louis University; Hubless Windmill: Fan blades are parallel to the rotational axis Unlike other windmills, it rotates around a ring frame, leaving the central portion open for other uses, and so can be mounted on smokestacks, skywalks, and commercial buildings, potentially bringing windmills from fields to cities.
Texas A&M University; F.I.R.E. (First Incident Response Equipment): Using radio frequency identification and broadband over power line technology, F.I.R.E. relays information from smoke and temperature sensors through a building's emergency power grid to a secure server, where it can be used by the incident commander.
University of Texas at Austin; NANOTaxi: Packaging and delivering a wide variety of drugs to specific cell types in the body, NANOTaxi targets diseased cells while leaving healthy ones unaffected.
These 10 teams have developed products around new and innovative technologies and believe they are on the cusp of commercialization. During the past six months, each team has worked with local entrepreneurs and mentors who helped the students refine their products, develop the business models for commercialization, and refine business pitches.
The students also enrolled in an intensive four-day Advanced Invention to Venture workshop, developed by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance. The workshop, which has been described as an entrepreneur's boot camp, covers topics such as idea validation, intellectual property issues, marketing, building the team, creating a business plan, and outlining a financial strategy.
The teams' work will be judged on seven criteria:
- The team's definition of the problem to be solved.
- How the idea solves the problem.
- The core technology and plans for using intellectual property.
- Proof of principle, which may include prototype.
- Competitive analysis and competitive advantage.
- Market potential (Who are the early adopters and later buyers?).
- Finance (How will the product make money?).
The inaugural I-Show event will feature collegiate-level teams only. However, currently under consideration is an expanded I-Show schedule targeting precollege students and midcareer engineers. Other possibilities include two tracks to the I-Show. One might be an open track where participants can deliver a business pitch and display any technology product, while the second track might focus on a specific industry technology challenge, such as energy, water, or aerospace.
WANTED for November 2008 I-Show
Innovative, creative, entrepreneurial students enrolled during the 2007-2008 academic year. Must have raw enthusiasm, commitment, and drive to produce the next great product using technologies and innovative design. Must be eagerly ready for the next step: to showcase their product or service and get started on commercialization.
Sound like you? Then apply for the 2008 I-Show, scheduled to be held in November 2008 at the ASME Congress in Boston. The I-Show provides the full experience of technology commercialization, bridging the gap between engineering school practicum and business school theories.
Successful teams will be matched with local entrepreneurs and experts based on their areas of expertise to help refine their products, develop a business model, and perfect their presentation.
Go to www.asme.org/events/IShow for I-Show team criteria and application details.
To Learn More
ASME's Center for Engineering Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEEI) was created as a critical resource for technological competitiveness and as a gateway for innovative thinkers to access the many resources available to maximize their potential. Further information on CEEI programs and activities can be found on the Center's Web site, www.asme.org/communities/entrepreneur.
The National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance maintains a Web site at www.nciia.org that includes discussions of the organization's grants and programs, and links to the Lemelson Foundation.
Idea to Product can be found on the Web at www.ideatoproduct.org. It includes information about competition entries and links to relevant University of Texas programs such as the Technology Entrepreneurship Society and the Murchison Chair of Free Enterprise.
Concerning Charles Piez's 1930 address, a Google search turned up a reference to it in an article published on the ASME Web site at http://sections.asme.org/dayton/THEASME%20PASTANDPRESENT.DOC. Under the title of "Engineering and Professional Consciousness, Past and Present," the article is the text of a speech presented at the Dayton Engineering Sciences Symposium in October 2005 by John A. Heitmann, Alumni Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
Howard Berkof is an intern with the Strategic Initiatives and New Products group in the Washington, D.C., office of ASME.