School:Western Michigan University

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Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship

While the word Entrepreneurship has been tossed around Western Michigan University's campus for quite some time, it has only recently become a reality for WMU students. As of Fall 2014, students can apply for either an Entrepreneurship major or Entrepreneurship minor. These programs feature classes from both the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences (CEAS) and the Haworth College of Business (HCoB).

Within CEAS, students can enroll in the Bachelors of Science in Engineering program  Industrial & Entrepreneurial Engineering (IEE). IEE combines traditional industrial engineering methodologies while focusing on innovation and design thinking. Students graduate with the mindset of both an industrial engineer and an entrepreneur, giving them the knowledge and expertise to either open their own business or to lead to innovative discoveries within established companies.The program was also presented with the Innovation in Curriculum Award at the 2013 Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) National Conference.

Within the Haworth College of Business, the Integrated Supply Management (ISM) program features an array of courses highlighting the importance of innovation and design. As of February 2015, the program was ranked #2 in the nation, only behind Penn State. ISM is the #2 most heavily recruited school for the Supply Chain Field, only behind Michigan State University. 

Additionally, the School of Music hosts an annual Entrepreneurial Extravaganza, a day-long workshop that combines resume writing, mock interviews, finance tips, marketing strategies, and networking. Through classes, workshops, and collaborative projects, students have the opportunity to develop the skills needed to be successful in their music career.

The Sunseeker Solar Car team at WMU brings multiple engineering majors and business majors together with the goal of building a solar power car. Innovative thinking is held at a premium as the team operates within confines set by the American Solar Challenge. Students learn the principles of drive and electrical systems as they design the car; this knowledge is then tested as students fabricate and test their designs. Throughout the year, the team competes in multiple 1200 to 1800 mile solar car races across the US and abroad. 

Western Michigan University also added Starting Gate, a business accelerator, to its repertoire in the summer of 2013. The program is very competitive with only a few teams accepted each semester of the many applicants. The extracurricular 100-day program provides workshops, speakers, and resources for participants to help bring their business ideas to fruition, much like an incubator. At the end of the program, students present their work and findings to Kalamazoo business owners and potential stakeholders. In addition, many of these students also participate in the annual PITCH Competition that is hosted by the Haworth College of Business. As the name suggests, students compete for funding through 3-minute pitches for their business ideas. This competition is one of the most popular entrepreneurial-based extracurricular activities that are offered by the university. The competition also offers prize money for the winning team to use towards their innovative idea. 

In late spring 2016, the Innovation Club was launched by former fellows, Mac Preston and Zach Crawford, along with several other engineering and business students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. The club aims to help students learn hands-on skills that they may not learn in the classroom by providing a makerspace and curriculum for courses. Though still getting off its feet, the Innovation Club has already built a 3d printer and plans to host workshops, pop-up classes, and a Repair Cafe. Pop-up class plans include "How to Change the Oil in Your Car," "How to Network," and "How to Solder." The goal of these classes is to help students feel comfortable learning in new ways, as well as to learn skills not taught in traditional settings. 

As of Fall 2017, students can now major in Product Design through the Richmond Institute of Innovation + Design. With a curriculum combining engineering, art, and business courses, this program is building their students for interdisciplinary success.

As of February 2018, all students can experience virtual reality in the Virtual Reality Lab in Waldo Library. A joint collaboration between the Office of Information Technology and University Library Services, students have access to a multitude of games, educational and artistic apps, entertainment, and content creation. Student led workshops and online tutorials

Late in the fall semester of 2018 a student, by the name Andy Hobelsberger, began a robotics club at Western Michigan University. This club supported the ideas of all of its members and gave students of all majors to receive hands on experience working on an array of robots. This club is a great opportunity for students to collaborate with each other outside of their courses. 

Faculty Innovation and Entrepreneurship

WMU professors have been the driving force behind the greater emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship within the classroom. From designing the only ABET-Accredited Industrial & Entrepreneurial Engineering (IEE) program, to forming the newly classified Entrepreneurship major, they are dedicated to bringing I&E to university students.

Within IEE, the professors collaborate to bring a set of courses (Entrepreneurial Engineering I, II, & III) to guide students through the different stages of the product design and development cycle. Other focuses of the courses include the business canvas and the hypothetical layout of the manufacturing facility needed to build that product.

This is the same within the Management Department, as professors seek out entrepreneurship projects for their students. These projects typically stem from the engineering college; the management students are to apply their business expertise to help expand these entrepreneurship efforts. Generally, the professors are also the first ones to encourage students to participate in competitions and workshops, such as the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and the Michigan Collegiate Innovation Prize. The management department is also utilizing local businesses to create classes that are run as consulting firms. Students receive hands-on-experience with management consulting and collaborate with businesses and present to CMO's, CEO's and other Excecutives in the businesses. 

Within the Mechanical Engineering Department, the seeds has been planted as more classes are starting to introduce students to the concepts of innovation. In Introduction to Mechanical Engineering, students are given multiple projects in addition to their coursework. The projects generally incorporate concepts learned in class, but in a real world setting, not only showing students how applicable their knowledge, but giving the students room to be creative and take their projects in whatever direction they choose.

The main push for entrepreneurship within the Haworth College of Business has come from Dean Kay Palan. She created the Endowed Chairs for Entrepreneurship team, consisting of Dr. Robert Landeros (department chair) and three entrepreneurs in residence (John Mueller, Barclay Johnson, and Laurel Ofstein). All three come from an impressive background of entrepreneurship experience.

Similarly, the Endowed Chairs for Innovation are leading the push for innovation at the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences. Making up this group are Dr. Steve Butt (Interim Dean), Dr. Tycho Fredericks, Dr. Bob White, and Dr. Azim Houshyar. 

University Technology Transfer Function

The Office of the Vice President for Research is home to the Intellectual Property Management and Commercialization (technology transfer) function at WMU. When dealing with research discoveries on campus, the office can assist with securing IP rights and the corresponding IP commercialization strategies. They also provide consulting services.

University-Industry Collaboration 

Western Michigan has a unique advantage within the category of University-Industry Collaboration. The College of Engineering & Applied Sciences (CEAS) is located within the Business Technology and Research (BTR) Park, a Pure Michigan SmartZone and a high-tech business development with nearly 40 member companies. The park’s location means partner firms in the life sciences, advanced engineering, and information technology will have regular opportunities to interact with the faculty, research staff, and students of one of the nation’s top public universities. Companies within the park include Newell Rubbermaid, EPS Security, StructureTec, ThermoFisher Scientific, and Tekna Solutions; a full list can be found at

Additionally, all disciplines within the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences must complete a Senior Design project as a requirement for graduation. The majority of these projects highlight local companies, bringing together the university students with industry professionals. In the past, projects have taken place at Stryker, Parker Hannifin, Eaton, Fabri-Kal, Denso, and many more. The most recent class of graduates contributed 152 projects and presentations to the university and surrounding industries. 

On top of this The College of Engineering & Applied Science hosts a career fair every year with 50+ companies attending and actively recruiting students. Students dress up and hand out resumes while practicing their elevator pitches and interviewing skills. Another big resource WMU offers is their company resume critiques and practice interviews. WMU will host a company to look over students resumes and give the students real world experience with interviews.

Regional and Local Economic Development Efforts

Starting Gate, WMU's business accelerator program, is the driving force behind merging WMU Entrepreneurship with regional and local economic development efforts. Students participate in workshops led by community leaders on topics ranging from marketing to patent law, and everything in between. The southwest Michigan Small Business Development Center, located within the Haworth College of Business, also provides small business assistance for companies within the program. Students are also encouraged to participate in and attend community events focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship, such as Pitch Zoo, Startup Zoo, and Startup Grind.

Floyd Hall, the main hub of WMU's engineering campus resides within the Business Technology and Research Park; a high-tech business developement space. Home to companies spanning industries from life sciences to advanced engineering and information technology, the BTR Park is currently looking to expand into the land adjecent to the Parkview Campus, where they hope to add more engineering and technology related business. The businesses that currently reside in the BTR Park not only have the opportunity to interact with staff, but with the students also, as many of the companies come to the Engineering Expo an annual gathering of surrounding engineering companies who inform students about their companies and the opportunites they hold. 

Here is a link to WMU's Landscape Canvas.


Landscape Canvas Spring 2017: 


Landscape Canvas Spring 2018:


Landscape Canvas Fall 2019:




Related Links

Graduated Innovation Fellows:  Christopher WoodwardPersefoni_Lauhon, Zach_Crawford

Current Fellows: Mackenzie Preston, Jill Puckett, Nathan LaWarre, Daniel Mozel, Andreas Hobelsberger, Megan Miller, Saleh Mohamed, Aisha_Thaj, Caylee_Prater, Cate Troost

Current Candidates:

Student Priorities: Western_Michigan_University_Student_Priorities

Related links