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Students Strive for Start-Up Success at European Innovation Academy

Wednesday, July 01, 2015
European Innovation Academy students at a local coffee shop.

Accelerating Innovation: Kayla Brosie and Ian Fong are among the students using lean start-up concepts to prepare their product idea for the European Innovation Academy.

It isn't uncommon to see groups of Rose-Hulman students poring over assignments at a nearby coffee shop. But Kayla Brosie, Ian Fong, Felix Winklemann, and Yashi Yadav are no run-of-the-mill study group. Surrounded by art, fueled by java, and armed with sticky notes, markers, and plenty of enthusiasm, the foursome used this off-campus class time with Professor Grant Hoffman to provide inspiration for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity-a shot to take a product idea from conception to market in just three short weeks.

On July 6, the students, Hoffman, and Professor Craig Downing will be in Nice, France for the start of this year's European Innovation Academy. Billed as the "world's largest extreme accelerator focused on IT inventions," the 15-day intensive program brings together some of the world's foremost leaders in technology to serve as speakers and mentors to nearly 600 student contenders from around the globe.

Among the presenters will be Rose-Hulman alumnus Brad Woodcox (ME 04, MSBE 09) Director of Business Development and Special Projects at national intellectual property law firm Novak Druce. It was Woodcox's suggestion that spurred the Rose-Hulman team's attendance this year.

Using accelerator content developed in cooperation with professors from the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University, along with corporations such as Google, Amadeus, Rovio, and Samsung, the program will boost student innovations from the drawing board to the marketplace.

Hoffman's students are attending the summit as the culmination of his EMGT497, Global Entrepreneurism course. The first half of the course, he explains, teaches the concepts outlined in the book The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Business. The second half is tailored to the students' areas of interest.

"It's less about me telling them what to do and more about guiding them through the lean start-up principle," Hoffman explained of the course.

For the European Innovation Academy, the group developed the concept for a mobile application targeted toward groups who want to collaborate on travel itineraries and trip details. Interestingly, none of the group members are actually app developers. They have fleshed out the concept first from a user perspective.

Fong European Innovation Acad

Creative Juices: An off-campus meeting spot infused an extra shot of creativity into the team's brainstorming sessions.

Some, like Fong, a mechanical engineer, drew on recent travel experiences for ideas. Yadav brought computer science expertise to the project. The addition of Winkelmann, an engineering management graduate student from Germany, added an international perspective to the mix. Brosie, who will continue her studies by pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech this fall, says that the differences each bring them an advantage.

"We all come from different backgrounds, but that's what makes us a strong team. Our very first week of class, we started brainstorming ideas." The group narrowed it down to three ideas before finally settling on the travel app.

One unique aspect of the European Innovation Academy is that participants may also choose to join others and form collaborations outside of their universities. The opportunity is facilitated through an online forum where project groups can seek members and individuals can seek specific projects of interest. In the weeks following the students' coffee-fueled work session, the group used this avenue to pick up another member, a marketing student from San Jose State University.

Each of them will come away with valuable entrepreneurial insights. And if their concept is good enough, they might just acquire the financial backing to see it to market. That's because key investors will also be in attendance at the event, looking for the next big tech start-up.

Attracting those investors is what makes this opportunity exciting for Brosie and the others.

"I hope we walk out of there with a company. I would absolutely love that," she says.