Entrepreneurs in the Making

Columbia Engineering’s minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is off to an impressive start—roughly 80 students from all departments have declared it to be their minor.

Dec 15 2015 | By Elaine Rooney | Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

Creativity, adaptability, and innovation are core to entrepreneurship, and the application of these features is at the crux of engineering. So there is no surprise that Columbia Engineering’s minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation is off to an impressive start—roughly 80 students from all departments have declared it to be their minor, a number that has increased each year since the program’s 2010 inception.

The 15-credit, interdisciplinary minor features a diverse mix of courses designed to provide students with hands-on opportunities to experience the entrepreneurial space. Students are prepared with practical courses such as an Introduction to Accounting and Finance as well as more specialized classes like the required Managing Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship or the Lean Launchpad, a class that creates the atmosphere of a startup for teams of students with viable business ideas.

Supriya Jain and Ayana Dawkins, two undergraduates in the minor, have both found their coursework to be not only invaluable to their future but also a highlight of their academic career. “All of my favorite classes have been those associated with the minor,” says Dawkins, a senior majoring in industrial engineering and operations research. “Each course really builds upon the other courses required for the minor, which I love because I continue to apply what I've learned previously in different contexts and in more depth.”

Both Jain and Dawkins were drawn to Columbia Engineering for its well roundedness and robust educational opportunities, features the minor certainly represents with classes spanning various fields and taking advantage of its prime New York City location. But what first compelled them to begin taking courses was the program’s usefulness.

"I wanted to learn about a field that I felt was practical and would have immediate applicability," says Dawkins, who has not been disappointed. Students in the minor are given a front row seat to the trials of startups in ways that are instructive, and they become poised to make a difference right away. “My group actually got to work directly with a startup as consultants. They explained their problems and we came up with specific deliverables, most of which they implemented,” Dawkins recalls of her Studies in Operations Research course.

The professors boast real life experience with a palpable zeal. “I find it incredible that almost every single professor in the department continues to be intimately connected to the technology and entrepreneurship space, as it's so motivating to be taught from what's obviously a genuine place of passion,” Jain notes. Classes also feature founders and CEOs of startups as guest lecturers, providing valuable insight as well as networking opportunities. The experience of being taught by leaders in the field helps guide the students to the most inspiring of questions: “I'm grateful to have learned how to move away from the, ‘so what's the next big startup idea?’ delusion to the, ‘who and how can we solve the next big problem?’ mentality,” says Jain, a junior majoring in engineering management systems.

As technology and engineering continue to play a crucial role in the economy as well as provide a conduit for solving global problems, Columbia Engineering, with its prime location and its talented faculty and students, is already having a big impact on the entrepreneurial space. And the students in the minor embody the vibrant enthusiasm of the field.

“The most surprising revelation for me was that I could not see myself anywhere other than the entrepreneurship and innovation space,” Jain adds. “I'm definitely addicted.”