Turning Engineers into Entrepreneurs

"Students saw a noticeable boost in these entrepreneurial competences after finishing the course".

In a nutshell

Engineering meets entrepreneurship in a game-changing Spanish university course, sparking a significant boost in students’ business skills without sacrificing their technical prowess.

In a Bigger Nutshell

The future isn’t just built; it’s envisioned, designed, and marketed. For those learning engineering, the focus often naturally falls on the building part, but new innovations don’t just need to be created – they need to be successfully brought to the market if they’re going to make a difference. Preparing engineering students for this has always been necessary, as engineers who come up with new tech or solutions often find the business side of things the toughest part, but the tricky question is how. How do you marry engineering expertise with entrepreneurial skills, without derailing the traditionally rigid engineering curriculum? How do you teach students to view each engineering challenge not only as a problem to solve, but as an opportunity to innovate and drive forward?

A recent study by Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent, Dolors Gil-Domenech, and Alba Manresa sheds light on this very intersection. Their research focused on engineering students at a university in Spain, where entrepreneurial activity is especially low and fear of entrepreneurial failure very high. The students took a course that was tailored to teach them about entrepreneurship alongside their regular engineering studies through challenge-based learning, built upon the principles of experiential learning, which emphasises learning through experience and reflection on doing. The students worked in teams and tackled projects that were connected to global issues, like the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, as well as the actual impact of their projects on the city of Barcelona, where the study took place. The goal was to see how effective the course was at improving the students’ entrepreneurial skills, such as problem solving, creative thinking, and resource utilisation.

Publication Date: January 2024

Authors: Jasmina Berbegal-Mirabent, Dolors Gil-Doménech, Alba Manresa

Institution: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya and Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Spain  

Study Type: Exploratory research

Sample Size: 56 engineering students

Research Focus: Integrating entrepreneurial skills into engineering education

Research Methodology: Challenge-based learning in a Project Management course

Main Findings: Significant improvement in entrepreneurial competences, minimal gender differences  

Citation: Berbegal-Mirabent, J., Gil-Doménech, D., & Manresa, A. (2024). Education + Training, 66(1), 107-126. DOI: 10.1108/ET-11-2022-0439

The results were clear: students saw a noticeable boost in these entrepreneurial competences after finishing the course. This means that incorporating entrepreneurial skills into regular engineering courses using challenge-based learning is a good approach, as opposed to the mere creation of an entrepreneurial programme for engineers. Furthermore, the study observed minimal gender differences in the uptake of these skills, with an exception in the domain of autonomy, where women exhibited a higher self-perception after the course. This insight is particularly encouraging, as it suggests that integrating entrepreneurial learning in engineering could also contribute to diminishing the gender gap in perceived autonomy and possibly in other areas of self-efficacy and entrepreneurship.

Overall, what this study really emphasises is the value of the interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship in modern education settings. This course didn’t just make the students better entrepreneurs – it made them better engineers. It prepared them for a future in the real world, where roles often require both technical expertise and business acumen, and where success often depends on more than building bridges or coding software. It’s about envisioning the bridge as a solution to a community’s connectivity or the software as a tool to improve people’s lives – and knowing how to make these solutions viable and accessible.

Summary by Elvira Andersson

Keywords/tags: entrepreneurship, engineering, challenge-based learning, interdisciplinarity

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