Transforming Your Student Engineering Project into a Startup

Many young engineers dream of taking a student project–perhaps even one started in a student dormitory–and transforming it into a billion-dollar startup. But unless one of your family members happens to be a wealthy VC investor in Silicon Valley, how exactly does that happen?
One idea that has caught on in popularity on university campuses around the nation is the business plan competition. Usually hosted by business or engineering schools, these competitions have exploded in popularity as the myth and lore around Silicon Valley has entered the mainstream popular culture. Students now view these competitions as a pathway to transforming classroom projects into a startup.
The prize pools available at these competitions have skyrocketed in value, too, making them even more enticing for students. For example, the MIT Clean Energy Prize, which could be of particular interest to any mechanical engineering student who might be contemplating a future career in the clean energy sector, hands out prizes worth $200,000. This year’s $100,000 MIT Clean Energy grand prize went to a team from Tufts University (Lithio Storage) developing safer, more energy efficient Li-ion batteries.
In addition to business plan competitions, there are several other options to transform your student project into a startup company. For example, universities and other academic institutions sometimes sponsor hackathons, where they invite students to spend a weekend building something new and creative that has potential real-world applications. You can find these events using resources like Hackevents, a search engine for hackathons; Hackalist, a list of upcoming hackathons; and HackathonsNear.Me, a listing of upcoming events.
Competitions such as the ASME ISHOW also offer an opportunity to prototype new ideas and transform academic classroom learning into real-world products. The ASME ISHOW is a global competition for hardware-led social innovation designed to help participants transform prototypes into actual products with life-changing implications. The opportunity to pitch a product concept in front of top engineering professionals and gain access to feedback and industry best practices can almost be viewed as a mini-bootcamp for anyone thinking about becoming an entrepreneur one day.
Events and competitions sponsored by ASME provide a level of networking and competitive spirit that simply cannot exist in the classroom, and can inspire young students to transform their creative ideas into real-world companies. Marco Carrion, an ASME student member from Escuela Politecnica Nacional in Quito, Ecuador, credits ASME for developing his leadership skills, including the right skills to launch an industrial design company of his own. “If I want to have my own company, I need to have the skills to be a leader,” he says of his experience leading the ASME chapter at his university.
There are plenty of online resources available from ASME, including information about upcoming conferences and E-Fests, for students thinking of transforming their dreams into innovative startups.

Dominic Basulto is a business and technology writer based in New York, NY.

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