Entrepreneurship at the intersection of technology and design

A $30,000 grant from the non-profit organization VentureWell helped launch a new class in the College of Human Ecology that gives senior design students the opportunity to develop and market their ideas.

The class – Fiber Science & Apparel Design Futures – is open to seniors in the departments of Fiber Science & Apparel Design and Design + Environmental Analysis. In it, students take a concept they developed in a previous design course and move it closer to the marketplace.

“How would it be made? What would it cost to produce? What would its end of life look like? These are the questions students are looking at,” said Margaret Frey, the course’s lead professor and the Vincent V.C. Woo Professor in the department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design. “The students are working in groups with a laundry list of deliverables to choose from. We’re asking them to think about the skills they want to be able to demonstrate to a prospective employer.”

 The course provides a bridge between university study and the real world, explained Keith Green, professor and interim chair of Design + Environmental Analysis.

“The VentureWell-granted course advances an ambition in both DEA and FSAD for our students to form interdisciplinary teams to launch products,” he said. “The course supports students in tackling the complexities of real-world challenges and opportunities. This is the future of design.”

VentureWell’s mission is to support innovation and entrepreneurship education and to provide unique opportunities for STEM students and researchers to fully realize their potential to improve the world. The College of Human Ecology was one of 13 universities that received education grants from the organization in the fall of 2020. The grant will support the class for the next four years.

The vast majority of the grant money is going directly toward student projects, including materials, equipment and the cost of market research – an effort to provide this opportunity to all students no matter their financial resources.

“We also consistently hear creating prototypes is really expensive, and we know the opportunity to do this isn’t level among students,” Frey said. “A major part of this grant is addressing the equity issue so that anyone can participate.”

The class was created based on feedback from Human Ecology design students, who said they were interested in opportunities to work in interdisciplinary groups. “We have some students more focused on design, others more focused on fiber-based materials,” Frey said. “Some are focused on the human impacts on environmental psychology, and some more focused on the business side of creative industries. This class brings them all together.”

In order to cover the various aspects of moving forward with a design project, a team of faculty members is helping with the course, acting as stakeholders in the project, helping with the approvals to conduct market research, and advising on various marketing and human factors aspects.

The hope is that this innovative structure showcases what is possible when departments collaborate, said Yasser Gowayed, professor and chair of the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design.

“The new class will allow students from FSAD and DEA to work together, complementing one another with an eye on digital technologies and entrepreneurship,” he said. “They will learn to appreciate the rigor needed of solve real-life problems, and ultimately expand their horizons and explore new areas of knowledge.”

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