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Open Access Enhancing the Academic Innovation Culture by Incorporation of Customer-Centric Practices

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The traditional siloed academic environment and its attendant flow of information from "experts" to "novices" hinder the development of students' and faculty's asking and listening skills, which are an important part of turning ideas into impactful innovations. This manuscript describes the National Science Foundation/American Society for Engineering Education Innovation Corps for Learning (I-Corps® L) program and its associated evidence-based entrepreneurship methodology, which includes listening, asking, and updating valuation of a specific idea in response to learning the customer needs and pains. We provide a case study of our experience in the I-Corps L program and connect lessons learned to the proposed use of "customers" as a means to transform the academic environment. This customer-centric approach could shift how engineering students are taught about design and the pursuit of intellectual property (IP). For example, training would be redirected from focusing solely on the technical steps of writing a patent to emphasizing the process needed to protect an idea as part of creating impactful business activities. Students would obtain a "real-world relevant" understanding of IP by identifying who would use an idea and in what form, i.e., who will pay for the idea in a specific embodiment. Similarly, researchers are traditionally taught to defend ideas and question challenges rather than humbly learning the value of an idea by asking the potential customers. Asking and questioning are different skills, and asking without biasing the response with preconceived answers is necessary to understand the translational landscape of an idea. By making the customer the center of our teaching and research, we can all benefit from the use of evidence-based entrepreneurship to translate our clever ideas into impactful innovations.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2019

More about this publication?
  • Technology and Innovation, edited and published by the National Academy of Inventors, is a forum for presenting information encompassing the entire field of applied sciences, with a focus on transformative technology and academic innovation. Regular features of T&I include commentaries contributed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and in-depth profiles of Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors in every issue.

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