Oct. 21, 2008

Kessler Fellows Program to let engineering students embrace their entrepreneurial spirit

The College of Engineering is offering a select group of students the chance to learn how to make their technological innovations into working businesses, thanks to a gift from Andrew J. Kessler '80.

The new Kessler Fellows Program will award fellowships to 10 engineering students who excel in the critical thinking of technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

"Andrew Kessler felt that engineering students need a better understanding of the business side of invention and innovation," said Betsy East, assistant dean for student services in the College of Engineering.

The program consists of three phases: a spring course that introduces students to issues related to starting and leading a new enterprise; a summer internship at a start-up technology company or innovations unit in a larger company; and a fall seminar.

"This program offers a unique opportunity for students to combine classroom learning with real-world, hands-on experience," East said.

The spring course, The Essentials of Entrepreneurism, will be taught by John Spoonhower, a new adjunct professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, a visiting lecturer at the Johnson School and the managing director of its Business of Science and Technology Institute. The course will focus on preparing students for their internships and cover such topics as creating, managing and licensing intellectual property; positioning and identifying potential market opportunities; understanding venture capital financing and its implications; and learning basic business operations and communications, such as how to run a meeting and manage confidentiality.

"This is not a course on how to write a business plan," Spoonhower said. "We want to focus more on the day-to-day challenges that face an entrepreneur in the real world and really prepare the students for the experiences they will face in the technology start-up environment."

Kessler fellows will get a chance to use that "real world" learning during the program's second phase, a 10-12 week summer internship. Fellows will receive mentoring from a senior officer in their host company and earn $12,000 for their work. Alternatively, if a fellow has an idea that will be better advanced by doing research with a Cornell faculty member, arrangements will be made for funding and space in Ithaca over the summer.

In addition to the salary, fellows will receive a $2,000 bonus for getting into the program, and associated travel expenses. Finally, if fellows are financial aid recipients, their loans will be reduced during their senior year.

The final component of the program, a fall seminar, offers students the chance to learn from each other by evaluating their experiences with other fellows, college faculty and invited guests.

The Kessler Fellows Program is open to all undergraduates in the College of Engineering. "We are looking for students who are truly interested in entrepreneurial initiatives, who have an idea they want to take to market and who are willing to take some risks," East said. "Applicants must also demonstrate creativity and leadership skills. We think this program has tremendous potential to help engineering students learn firsthand what it takes to make inventions and innovations into real businesses."

Learn more at http://www.engineering.cornell.edu/programs/undergraduate-education/kessler/index.cfm.

Becca Bowes is a writer for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.