Entrepreneurship in Engineering
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Episode Show Notes
Mechanical engineer and PhD student Sadhan Sathyaseelan cohosts with engineer-entrepreneur Pius Wong in today’s episode. We talk about Sadhan’s experience learning that engineering students want to be business leaders, and we brainstorm ideas for teaching entrepreneurship in schools. We also discuss our favorite entrepreneurs and learn about new trends to teach entrepreneurship as part of engineering in K-12.
Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor, used under a Creative Commons Attribution License.
Listen to the Engineering Word Of The Day podcast. Also check out the book and ebook Engineer’s Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong, on Amazon, Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, and other retailers.
Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.
Pius Wong 0:00
It's July 31 2017, and this is the K 12. Engineering Education Podcast.
Pius Wong 0:12
Special episode today. Engineer Sadhan Sathyseelan joins me, Pius Wong, to cohost, as we talk about bringing entrepreneurship into engineering education.
Pius Wong 0:25
Hey, I am Pius.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 0:27
I am Sadhan Sathyaseelan.
Pius Wong 0:29
So in case you haven't heard the podcast in a while, you might recognize my voice. I usually host this podcast, but Sadhan here, he's been on the show before.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 0:37
I've been cohosting a little bit, here and there.
Pius Wong 0:40
What's something that people should know about you?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 0:43
Okay, so I'm a mechanical engineer. I got my Master's degree at the University of Texas at Austin. And right now I'm working for the University of Texas at Austin, developing engineering freshman calculus projects. I'm waiting to get back into my PhD program. So that's where I'm at right now.
Pius Wong 1:03
Yeah, so you're actively doing stuff in engineering education?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:07
Yes, I am.
Pius Wong 1:08
Awesome. And you also taught engineering students before?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:12
I have, yeah. Hopefully that's where the conversation can lead to today.
Pius Wong 1:16
Yeah. So tell me a little bit about your...
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:19
Wait, you tell everyone about you.
Pius Wong 1:21
Oh, yeah. What do they want to know about me?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:24
What do you do? What do you do right now? What have you done?
Pius Wong 1:27
Right now I am making this podcast. But actually, it's a part of this studio that I keep on mentioning after every episode called Pios Labs. And it is an engineering and education consultancy. It's kind of a catch-all. So basically, I develop software for people. I develop educational games. I teach every so often and tutor, and yeah, we'll see where it leads me.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:51
So Pios Labs. Is that was the name of your company?
Pius Wong 1:56
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 1:56
Okay. So I've been I've been wondering about this question. I mentioned that I have been teaching for a while. And I've been teaching the senior design project at UT for undergrads. So this is the pre-final semester. So what I teach them is -- or I TA them. So what we do is, we have these team product projects that the students reverse engineer, and they write a report. My job is to guide them through that, in terms of teamwork, in terms of technical communication, presentations, and also how to do their research and how to apply innovation in designs. One of the things that I found out, which kind of bothered me, was in the beginning of the semester. I'm not sure if you know about this, but we hand out this first assignment, where we ask them, hey, what are your future passions? What do you want to do? And I was surprised to find out that more than 50% of the students...
Pius Wong 3:05
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:06
Pius Wong 3:07
Like half of them.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:08
Half of them. So half of them, they answer that they want to get into a managerial position. And these are like technical engineers, mechanical engineers. And I was like, kind of surprised, like, what is that? Why do people not want to get into a technical field? These are engineers we're talking about
Pius Wong 3:27
And they've taken engineering now for like three and a half years.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:31
Yeah, and they want to jump into management. So I was kind of curious about entrepreneurship itself. So you have a company. Pios Labs. Yeah, Pi-O-S.
Pius Wong 3:41
The name might be a mistake, but we'll find out.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:46
Your name is Pius.
Pius Wong 3:47
Mine is Pius with a U, and my company is Pios with an O.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:51
Is it Pi-O-S?
Pius Wong 3:53
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:54
Pius Wong 3:54
Yeah, I have a story behind that name.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 3:56
That's what I want to hear. What prompted you to -- I know you you've been working for UT, as well. For a while you've been training teachers to deliver engineering content to high school students. So what prompted you to start this company?
Pius Wong 4:13
Well, I wanted to be able to do my own stuff. So I said one of the things that I wanted to do, or that I do right now, is I try to develop educational games, educational software. And that's not a thing that was part of our old job. And so Sadhan and I, I mean, we worked together before. We did not create educational video games. It is a very different thing. I did develop cool little robots systems, you know, stuff like that. I would like to create something even cooler. So maybe create video games, but also games that are involved in your robots, all this other stuff that doesn't fall under the purview of what the University of Texas wants.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 4:52
So it's your own thing. You're not associated with the university anymore?
Pius Wong 4:56
I am not.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 4:57
So that's -- I find that very interesting. You're not the only one to do something like that. There are a lot of people, but I think more than that, there are a lot of people who want to do something like that, but they don't.
Pius Wong 5:11
Yeah, like the students that you were teaching. They want to do that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 5:14
They want to do that. But usually they end up taking an oil job, which is a lot of money. It's Texas, so of course. But eventually, I'm hoping that they get into the field that they really want to do like in the manager positions.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 5:35
What is entrepreneurship from your experience until now?
Pius Wong 5:38
I would say entrepreneurship is delivering and selling a product to customers. That's what I would call entrepreneurship. And it does make me wonder what your students thought entrepreneurship was. Did they even know? Because I probably knew on a surface level. And by the time I actually quit my job and started to create my own job, I'm discovering what entrepreneurship is. And so I wonder, do these engineering students have any idea what they really want, like, when they say that?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 6:15
You know what? I'm not sure. I'm not exactly sure about that. From my understanding, all I see is that they're technically skilled people, smart people, and they want to create something. That's very clear about, specifically, the project that we do. It is reverse engineering. So they have to innovate something. It's very clear that they want to apply the skills that they learned to do something that's other than a desk job, so to speak. Rngineering is a professional degree. So technically, you can create a livelihood for yourself if you wanted to.
Pius Wong 6:56
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 6:57
So yeah, I'm not sure why they -- Maybe they intuitively understand entrepreneurship. Maybe they don't know the definition of it. Like you were talking about, you jumped into it, and you're learning more about it. Maybe that's where they are.
Pius Wong 7:14
Yeah. And that's the thing. Nobody taught me when I was growing up, how to start a business. And definitely not in college. I mean, I took a class once in grad school, and that was probably the closest I had gotten. They always say that the best entrepreneurs, they already figured out what to do when they were a young kid, like they started their own hustle, they mowed lawns, or they started their own lemonade business or whatever. I didn't do that. So I don't know. Like, I'm getting my training late in life. And I wonder if a lot of students in college know they want to do this. Is it because they got their training before? If so, how did they do it? I seriously doubt that students got training in entrepreneurship, when they were growing up, most kids.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 8:05
So would you say entrepreneurship and leadership skills -- How much do they overlap?
Pius Wong 8:12
Oh, they overlap a lot, you know? because entrepreneurship means that you're actually, creating a product, selling a product, and leading everyone involved in that process. And even if it's just one person, I mean, you got to get people on board, and you got to get your customers on board and your investors on board. All that stuff.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 8:36
It seems like even if you're the only one, there is a lot of planning that's involved in your life. That is, at some level, self-leadership.
Pius Wong 8:44
Do you think that a part of engineering education should include entrepreneurship education?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 8:52
I totally think so. And this is coming from a very personal experience of TA-ing that course. There is definitely a need.
Pius Wong 9:00
So what did you see? Were they not good organizers or leaders? Or did they not have these qualities that you think entrepreneurs need?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:11
So, you know, how engineers have this reputation for being socially inept?
Pius Wong 9:19
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:20
Pius Wong 9:23
I make that joke all the time about myself.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:26
But ok, so in my opinion, an entrepreneur is somebody who -- it's not really about the social thing, but you're good communicators, at least.
Pius Wong 9:34
Yes. I agree.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:35
Yeah. So I'm not sure if that level of, that kind of teaching happens in engineering schools.
Pius Wong 9:45
Because they're focused on other things.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:46
They're focused on technical stuff, most of the time.
Pius Wong 9:48
They're focused on math and milling and CAD, and whatever else goes on.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:51
Pius Wong 9:52
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 9:53
So here's a different question. Is education in entrepreneurship important?
Pius Wong 10:00
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 10:01
Why would you say so? Is your entrepreneurship life right now -- Do you wish you learned something before?
Pius Wong 10:08
Yeah, I mean, I could answer that, for me, personally. I mean, I didn't know that I was going to try to do my own thing when I was younger. And it's just something I grew into. But like, at least, if I had that background, I could have maybe fallen into this job earlier. I had a lot of training in, what, chemistry and science and English, and that was great. And it helped me do the things that I'm doing. And maybe my education was already packed with stuff that there was no room for anything else. But if I had some business training that wasn't boring, then maybe I would have been inspired to do what I'm doing and know what I'm doing. Because hey, I could always make more money. I'll tell you that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 10:49
You know, I was reading about -- This guy was talking about the humanities development. So right now we understand the reason we're doing this podcast on engineering education is because we understand the importance of engineering, itself, in our day-to-day lives, in terms of improving humanity's future. Now, in that sense, one of the biggest reason why entrepreneurship education is important, from my perspective, and from what this guy was talking about, is: In human history, there have always been one certain group, one certain institution, that kind of controls or kind of influences every other sector. For example, in the past, you can see religion playing a huge role in shaping human future. And then it became politics. Politics became a big influencer.
Pius Wong 12:04
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 12:06
Yes. In that sense, in a very big picture sense, I think we are at a point where the leaders of the world are actually business people.
Pius Wong 12:17
Oh, yeah. A lot of people would agree with you.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 12:19
Yeah. So for example, Elon Musk is taking people to Mars. Like, what?
Pius Wong 12:24
Yeah, well, if you follow Reddit at all, there's a lot of people screaming about how corporations might have too much influence on everything. But who knows how much we can stop that?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 12:34
Right. I mean, you can't -- it took thousands of years to stop monarchy, thousands of years to reduce the influence of religion. So it's inevitable. We are at a time where business leaders are the ones that are influencing the world we live in, now and in the future. Because you look at these big corporations like Google. The revenue of Google is bigger than some countries', even. So these are big influences on the world. So if that is the case, then I think it's high time we look into entrepreneurship, as a science and at least try and teach it.
Pius Wong 13:25
And get more engineers to become entrepreneurs.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 13:28
Yeah. I think introducing them at any level would be...
Pius Wong 13:32
Yeah, you know, I think that also parallels what people have been saying about politicians and stuff like that. They say, why don't we have more engineers and scientists in political positions? Because the theory is that if we did, maybe we would solve more problems, at least the technical problems. Likewise, you could say the same thing about business leaders. If you had more minds that are technically oriented in innovation, maybe they would create some really great businesses and corporations that don't ruin the world,
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 14:07
Which is also what the students want, from the small data that I've gathered, in my experience. I'm not sure if it's because we're in Austin.
Pius Wong 14:16
Yeah, Austin is a very entreprenurial city.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 14:17
Austin is a very startup city. That is a part of it.
Pius Wong 14:21
But I do think that in the media, entrepreneurship has been popularized. I felt that growing up. Like, I didn't feel like engineers nor businesspeople were idolized when I was a kid. But as I got into high school and college, and then past college, I was like, Oh, well, business people are definitely becoming idolized more. You got Shark Tank today, which is super popular. And it's a great show, by the way. My business school professor was also saying it's a great show. And I think there are many reasons to say why entrepreneurship is important and why engineers should know how to be entrepreneurs. But then how do you actually do that? How do you effectively teach it?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 15:01
That's a good question.
Pius Wong 15:02
It's hard enough teaching engineers, right? We have a shortage of qualified engineers, because they aren't passing their math classes, or nobody's interested, or we don't have enough role models. And so now we're going to throw in this other thing. Isn't that a challenge?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 15:16
It is. But if we just brainstorm a little bit, I think we can find ways to introduce entrepreneurship in a very organic way.
Pius Wong 15:33
Sure, at any level, they don't have to be in college.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 15:35
No, no, of course not. So if you talk about entrepreneurship itself, we spoke a little bit about it. It's overlaps a lot with leadership.
Pius Wong 15:43
It does. With leadership and with innovation and engineering itself.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 15:47
Pius Wong 15:49
Yes. Understanding what people want to need.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 15:51
Yes. So what are some of the examples that you can think of that can be done in any level of education that might be able to teach the idea of -- or impart the idea of running a business, start something?
Pius Wong 16:11
How to run, how to start a business. How to sustain a business.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 16:14
Pius Wong 16:15
And I'm thinking about it in an engineering context. Well, I'm just going to throw ideas out there.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 16:21
Okay. Yeah, we can do that.
Pius Wong 16:23
I already mentioned the classic: start a lemonade business. Start a lawn-mowing business. So those are all the stereotypical kid businesses.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 16:32
So do people do that in America already?
Pius Wong 16:36
Yeah, they do. And part of the reason why they have Girl Scout cookie sales is to teach business sense.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 16:42
Pius Wong 16:43
There are a lot of programs like that. When I was a kid, I remember that whenever every spring would come, and there's baseball season for Little League, they would have kids selling candy bars and stuff for their team. So there are all those things. I don't really know how effective those programs are in teaching money sense in kids, or organization, but, you know, maybe that's something.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 17:08
I mean, I think the lemonade stand is a great example of business, running a business, starting and running a business. If any kid -- I'm guessing it's done in like, middle school level.
Pius Wong 17:22
I don't even know if people do it anymore, to be honest. It's like one of those things that I think of in Charlie Brown.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 17:28
Yeah, I've only seen it in cartoons.
Pius Wong 17:31
Like, I don't know if people do that anymore, if people are worried about being poisoned by strangers.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 17:35
Pius Wong 17:37
I've heard that that's a concern. Yeah. In any case, I think watching Shark Tank sometimes can be inspiring, honestly. Kids can look at that and see other young kids starting businesses. They've had a couple of teenagers and middle schoolers on that show. So that's really interesting. They're obviously helped by adults. But maybe that's the lesson. The lesson is, even if you're a kid, you can find people to help you and to teach you. And don't be afraid to ask. Don't be afraid to research and look things up. So I hope that that's something that they learn.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:18
Yeah, teaching entrepreneurship, it seems like a very broad thing to brainstorm about.
Pius Wong 18:25
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:25
Do you want to pick the top two skills and see how those can be important? Okay, before that, let's read the definition of entrepreneurship, because I'm curious about it.
Pius Wong 18:34
Yeah. You've got it on your phone, right?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:36
Pius Wong 18:37
What's the source here?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:39
The Business Dictionary defines entrepreneurship as...
Pius Wong 18:43
The business dictionary?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:45
The business dictionary, the website. Sounds...
Pius Wong 18:51
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 18:52
So: The capacity and willingness to develop, organize, and manage a business venture, along with any of its risks, in order to make a profit. The most obvious example of entrepreneurship is starting a new business. So starting something new. The willingness to start something new. It seems like a very central theme of entrepreneurship. So how can this willingness to start something new be incorporated in average everyday education? Regardless of what kind of education it is?
Pius Wong 19:35
Yeah, that's a good question. I would say that engineering classes have that exact same question. I mean, they -- a full engineering design class will teach the skill of researching a need, like going to a community or a set of customers and finding out what their deal is, what they need, what their problem is, and get some ideas for how to solve it. So one skill is that: doing your customer needs analysis. And there are a lot of engineering classes behind that. And engineering projects you can do for that. The first thing that I thought of actually was in humanities classes, in art classes and art projects. Do you think that those types of projects also can teach someone to be motivated to start something new?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 20:28
It seems like it. If you're going to tackle the very idea of the willingness to start something, it seems like it doesn't have to be a business. It doesn't have to be a product, in fact. If it's just about human willingness, then if a student just wants to start a band, say, music band, or if he wants to start a sports team, I think that willingness itself should be nurtured and not be discouraged.
Pius Wong 20:58
Right. I wonder if some kids may not even know that they want to start it, but they do know they want to play baseball, or they know they want to play in a band. And so maybe all it takes is some supportive adults to say, well, maybe we don't have a band right here in this school yet, but you can help start one. You know, in our high schools, they always say that the people who start their own club are already well off, you know.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 21:32
Yeah, it is a show of leadership skills.
Pius Wong 21:35
Yeah. So you know what? There are a lot of -- I feel a little better. There are a lot of educational benefits to what our schools are doing today. I mean, they do encourage kids to start stuff. They encourage kids to be passionate about creating something, whether it's art, or now in our engineering classes that are spreading.
Pius Wong 21:56
I think that having the passion to start something is something that can be taught in any one of those subjects that we teach, whether it's an English class, because you can have passion to start a story.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 22:10
Pius Wong 22:10
Or in math class, you can do a math project. I mean, like you can teach, you can encourage kids to have passion to start something in any class. So going beyond that, then the next step to me, is being able to make money off of it. That's the hurdle. I would like to brainstorm about that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 22:33
Okay, so one of the key things that the definition of entrepreneurship is, you not only manage the organizing the business, you're also managing the risk that's involved. Financial risk is a huge thing. So here we are at an undergrad engineering level, senior students, who know that they want to use their skills in something that's much more close to the heart, so to speak. But they end up in big corporations. It's a great start of their career. But it is a step lesser than what they really want to do. So the biggest factor for that is the risk that is involved.
Pius Wong 23:21
Right, they're not willing to take that risk.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 23:23
Pius Wong 23:25
You know, so I have a couple of answers to that. I don't know. And you can tell me what you think.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 23:29
Pius Wong 23:30
My immediate first thing that I thought of was very simple: improv classes.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 23:35
Pius Wong 23:37
One of the biggest things that they teach you is to be okay with risk. It's so funny how one of the biggest fears of people is public speaking, or looking stupid on a stage.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 23:48
Pius Wong 23:48
And if you're forced to do that in an improv class, you get over it after a while quite easily, in a fun way. It becomes positive. It becomes a thing that you embrace. You embrace the risk, and in a way you embrace failure, because on stage, it's fine. No one's getting hurt.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 24:04
Pius Wong 24:05
And so I highly recommend that. I have a friend who I met from improv class who also took trapeze class.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 24:12
What is that?
Pius Wong 24:13
You learn how to swing on a trapeze, something like that. So I'm not saying that you should put yourself in physical danger and do something like that, but I think that sports in general, like, trying something new that you don't know how to do, is another way to get over that. Like, this whole thing about risk-taking is being able to judge the amount of risk that you're going to face. And if it's a reasonable amount of risk, to feel that emotion and be fine with it. I think that the successful entrepreneurs are willing to fail a lot. They're willing to feel the emotion of being a failure.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 24:21
I think the key word is measured risks.
Pius Wong 24:54
Measured. Yeah. Calculated risk is that special phrase.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 24:56
Pius Wong 24:57
Yeah, exactly. So there's a couple -- this whole idea of risk, this question of risk, I mean, has a lot of little details. One idea is being able to stand it. That's the part with the improv class. But then how do you measure it? And how do you measure it accurately? Those are two more questions. So the whole finance game, teaching people how to deal with money -- that's one way to help measure your risk. So I took a micro -- no, macroeconomics class in high school. And it was really boring at the time. I only took it because I needed social science, but it's like, that's my first foray into analyzing money and stocks and bonds and all that stuff. And like, you can put numbers to a risky business, literally. And so if kids are taught how to apply valuations, literally, to different ventures, that would be cool. They can value the the time and money in selling Girl Scout cookies, you know, more than just selling it and talking to people -- which is still a great skill, by the way. I don't want to mitigate that. But they could also try and measure that. Like if they spend eight hours a day trying to sell cookies. They can think about probabilities of them not making their budgets and all that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 26:16
That's that's a very good problem to think about.
Pius Wong 26:18
Yeah. Do you think that your students thought about this at all? How to measure risk? And deal with it? When it comes to a business?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 26:34
I don't think so. I mean, this is not a business school. It's engineering school. I'm sure they there was teaching about risk analysis,
Pius Wong 26:44
The probability that a beam will fail, that kind of thing?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 26:46
Yeah. So in that kind of a context, there was a little bit of risk analysis. But we're talking about human risk, like, taking life risks. It is calculated. So to me, it seems like there is a science behind this. If it's random risk, then there's no science behind it. It's a calculated risk.
Pius Wong 27:06
Well, even if it's random, you can like do some modeling and stuff. But yes, it's an art as well.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 27:13
It is. It's a weird position that it takes.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 27:26
I'm gonna change gears and ask you a different question.
Pius Wong 27:28
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 27:29
Who is your favorite entrepreneur? Past, present?
Pius Wong 27:33
You know, I'd have to think about that. I don't have one right away. I would love to make as much money as, you know, Zuckerberg and Facebook, but Facebook, itself, has its own flaws, you know?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 27:46
So let's just stick to the entrepreneurship skills of it.
Pius Wong 27:53
I can tell you what I admire about certain people. So Zuckerberg, for example. He started really young made a lot of money. In that sense, that is impressive, if I separate it out from all the moral and other qualms I have about that. Elon Musk creates cool technology, or is is very interested in cool technology. And I like how he diversifies in space and energy efficiency and all that cool stuff. So I like that. You know, I interviewed that entrepreneur, Connie Hu, who started ArcBotics. And she was sticking to herr guns. She wanted to make sure that her business was open source. She wanted people to learn from their technology, and an open source is really key to that. So I was like, you know what, I admire that. It hasn't ruined her business or anything. It's been a key pillar of her business, in fact.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 28:49
So she's trying to -- Open source is when you're not getting paid for...
Pius Wong 28:55
Well, like, for example, all the libraries and Arduino code that they use for their Sparki robot, anyone can download it and look at it and use it. And the hardware is based off the Arduino, which is also open source. So they're selling something that has a lot of open source technology to it, and they lost investors because of that, but they don't need investors. Their real investors are their customers. They have succeeded, thus far, in not only educating kids and people and adults, which is their mission. They've also made a bunch of money.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 29:13
That's very interesting.
Pius Wong 29:34
Exactly. So I admire that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 29:36
You know what I hear from that is...
Pius Wong 29:37
Not Zuckerberg level, but...
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 29:38
Right. Yeah, no, it doesn't matter. Like, you know, that's not the point. But what I what I'm learning from that specific story is, if you want to make a difference, not from "I want to make a billion dollars with starting this giant company," even if it is something as simple as "I want to educate the kids." It has to be done through entrepreneurship. So I wonder if she what she wanted to do?
Pius Wong 30:04
She and her cofounder, by the way.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 30:06
Yeah. So it seems like they could have done different things to have more investors and make more profit. It seems like the goal of their vision for them this is beyond just monetary.
Pius Wong 30:22
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 30:24
So in that sense, if you're making a difference, it seems like there's no more central theme as they want to make a difference.
Pius Wong 30:30
Yeah, their metrics for success was not just money.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 30:34
So what I'm learning from that is, if you want to make a difference, nothing to do with money, money or business, it still has to be run as a business. It still has to be done from a very entrepreneurship mindset. So entrepreneurship may not be just about businesses making money.
Pius Wong 30:51
Some people would argue with you, I think. Some people would say businesses make money, otherwise, you're a charity.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 30:56
Oh, yeah, I know. So there was one class that I took. It's called New Venture Creation at UT. And one of the biggest surprises that I had was that -- The teacher, his name was Rob Adams.
Pius Wong 31:08
I took that class.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:09
Was that the class you were talking about?
Pius Wong 31:11
Probably two years before.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:12
Okay. Yeah, he's an amazing guy.
Pius Wong 31:14
So anyone listening, Rob Adams has a book about market validation. It's a great little book for you to read it.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:21
Yeah, I don't remember the name. You remember the name?
Pius Wong 31:23
I think it's called Market Validation.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:25
I think it's called "If you sell"...
Pius Wong 31:27
He's got a couple books, though.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:28
Okay. All right. So I was prescribed as a textbook one of them, "If You Sell It, Will They Come?" something like that. But let's put it on the description.
Pius Wong 31:36
I'll put it in the show notes.
Pius Wong 31:37
Yeah, you have to run it "like a business," quote, unquote, in that you have to know what you're doing with your metrics, and you have to organize well. It's just that the profits don't go to...
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 31:37
Yeah. So I took the class, and I was very, very surprised to learn that these huge NGOs and nonprofit organizations, they have the same exact business model as big tech companies. It's like, this makes no sense. The tech company's all about making a profit. And this is the exact opposite of that. But that is how -- it's just what works.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 32:16
Pius Wong 32:17
Yeah. Although you can still get paid really well at a nonprofit, because money just doesn't go to shareholders.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 32:24
Even the profit, you know, these NGOs, they have competitors. They are cutthroat, which I was a very surprised by that. I was like, wait, these are supposed to be the more chill people, as opposed to cutthroat. But if you want a business to sustain, if you want a big organization to sustain like that, they need to use the principles of management.
Pius Wong 32:43
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 32:43
And so it to me, it seems like from the discussion and the story you shared, entrepreneurship is not constrained to a money-making mechanism. It seems like anything you want to do that is big, that's on your own, it has to be done from an entrepreneurship mindset.
Pius Wong 33:07
And you know, I think that's one of the dangers of promoting business or entrepreneurship education. Similar to how engineers have the stereotype of maybe being socially inept or not cool, or whatever -- and that's not right -- I think it's very easy to stereotype anyone who's in business or entrepreneurship as a money-grubbing, immoral Scrooge.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 33:35
Wolf of Wallstreet.
Pius Wong 33:36
And there certainly are people like that out there, which is bad, just like I'm sure there are asocial engineers out there. It doesn't mean that we want to continue having them. We should have entrepreneurs who are not evil doing stuff, you know?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 33:48
You know, there is an actual specific specialization in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship.
Pius Wong 33:54
Yeah. And I think that that's another avenue that you could tell kids about, as well, especially kids who might have the wrong idea that businesspeople are only bad. Hey, you can teach them there is such a thing as social entrepreneurs. Like the whole theory of America, American capitalism, is that, quote, unquote, better companies will beat out the rest. I don't know if that's true.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 34:16
Competition, yes, survival of the fittest.
Pius Wong 34:17
I don't know if that's true all the time. Because there are certainly companies that do bad stuff that have survived a long time. But the idea is, hey, if you are one of the, you know, good people with values that you aren't going to compromise on, hopefully, maybe you can start a good business that actually helps people. Hopefully, business won't poison you. That's what people say about politics that you --
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 34:42
Pius Wong 34:43
Yeah. And as you just said, corporations and business people, they're going to be the new powerhouses. Hopefully power will not corrupt you.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 34:50
I think they already are.
Pius Wong 34:51
Yeah. And so this is a dangerous -- This is this is a tricky discussion.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 34:55
Well, yeah. I'm not really I don't really I'm really interested in if it's good or bad. It is what it is. Okay.
Pius Wong 35:03
So you're more along the philosophy of this: is what's happening. Deal with it.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 35:06
This is what's happening. So better start learning to --
Pius Wong 35:10
All the better reasons for teachers to --
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 35:12
Yeah. Start teaching entrepreneurship.
Pius Wong 35:19
Let me ask you, who's your favorite entrepreneurs? And why?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 35:22
I would say Elon Musk. Reasoning is simple. He has a much larger vision than any other entrepreneur that I know of, and every single company that he has built reflects that vision. And it's not like all the companies are small. They all are each huge companies in their own right. It just blows my mind that he solved all these problems one by one. And then you see this whole vision of his ship. It just blows my mind. Just to give you a small -- just the vision, is he first started -- He started PayPal first, the online banking.
Pius Wong 36:14
He did PayPal? I didn't know that.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 36:15
Yes. But yeah, he sold it, I think, or -- I don't know what happened to it. But he's not anymore.
Pius Wong 36:23
Or it went with eBay or something?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 36:25
Right. So he started Tesla, okay, which is like, he pushed the boundaries of what electric cars can do. And we are at a time when, with all the global warming and all the immigration is happening, it's like high time somebody solved that problem. He did that. And then he moved on to SpaceX. Okay, SpaceX, where he wants to use -- the significance of SpaceX is re-launching rockets.
Pius Wong 36:56
To privatize space travel, space flight.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 36:59
Yeah, I think the most significant way to do that, but they figured out, is landing the rocket again, and then relaunching it. I think it saves a lot, a lot of resources, compared to the traditional way of just launching it.
Pius Wong 37:15
You've seen that video of, like, the rocket coming back down?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 37:17
Right? Falcon. Yes.
Pius Wong 37:18
It's like looking -- it's like rewinding the launch. That's what it looks like.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 37:22
I didn't think about it that way, but yeah. It's pretty cool.
Pius Wong 37:26
It is cool. And it inspires.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 37:28
Yeah. It's not just -- it does inspire. It's also -- And then he started this solar energy company. So, one of the reasons are -- To connect all of this, what I see is, centrally the idea is to explore space travel that will take people to Mars, and its space rockets can only use fossil fuels. So it cannot use any other form of fuel. So it needs to use fossil fuel. But then fossil fuels are going down at an alarmingly, you know, decreasing an alarming rate. So you have a solution for that, that is, introduce electric cars. And the significance is not just, oh Tesla has a car. No. The significance is, Hey, electric cars are viable. Create a market so other other companies compete with that, too. So you create this trend of electric cars that are also cooler. So you do that, and you slowly shift the market towards that. You save the fossil fuel to launch rockets. And then you reduce the fossil fuel consumption so low. It's just affecting the world in so many different ways. So in that sense, I think his entire vision for not just the company, for humanity itself, is awe-inspiring.
Pius Wong 38:51
He's done a lot. He has a broad vision for helping humanity, not just himself.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 38:56
Yes, social entrepreneurship.
Pius Wong 38:57
Sure. And the proof is in the pudding. He's made a big, like, measurable effect on society so far. And he's not done. So that's kind of cool.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 39:07
I hope, yeah.
Pius Wong 39:08
I think that makes me have another idea for teaching entrepreneurship. Like, you need to give them these role models. You know, if you heard about someone who was like you, who could overcome everything and figure out how to be an engineer, I bet it's the same thing for a successful business person, let alone an engineer-slash-business person. Elon Musk, maybe some kid is looking down and they're like, oh, maybe I could be like him.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 39:33
Pius Wong 39:34
And in the case of other people, maybe like her or maybe like this other person, you know. And so there's a bunch of other resources out there to give examples of those people. Like, oh I don't know. All those all those STEM engineering networks, like linkengineering.org, you can get connected to engineers, but maybe they can get -- maybe you can get connected to entrepreneurs as well, who are successful. Just I wonder, though, entrepreneurs by definition, if they're super successful, they probably are really busy and have all these people around them, right?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:11
I mean, how busy are you right now?
Pius Wong 40:12
Well, I'm busy, but I'm not even as successful. I'm just doing this podcast, you know? But like, I'm super busy, and I need to make money.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:19
Right? But the thing but it's the risk. You're calculating risk.
Pius Wong 40:22
Yeah, we can't get Elon Musk to go visit the local middle school can we?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:26
Yeah, you can't.
Pius Wong 40:26
So that's a challenge, actually. Yeah, that's another need. How can we bring business people into the classroom?
Pius Wong 40:36
So we know a teacher up in the northeast who is starting a company as well as teaching, right? Melanie?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:44
Pius Wong 40:44
She's been on this podcast before. But she is super busy. Because when you're an entrepreneur, you have lots of stuff to do.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:51
And I think she's doing it in middle school, high school level?
Pius Wong 40:55
I think so. And she's teaching also.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 40:57
So it is starting. It is it's definitely something that's happening right now.
Pius Wong 41:01
Yes. She's in the stage of market validation. Well, a second round of it.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:06
No, I meant entrepreneurship education is happening.
Pius Wong 41:09
Oh, well, no, what I was gonna say is, she is doing it for herself. As far as I know, she's not teaching an entrepreneurship class.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:17
Oh, she is. Well, I'm not sure if you know this.
Pius Wong 41:21
Oh, maybe I don't know.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:22
Yeah. So she was actually asked to -- I'm not sure why -- Maybe she doesn't mind. It's free advertising for her. Yeah. So this is one of the schools that's in Seattle that has engineering education in high school level. And they have engineering, part one, part two. And as part three, what they've done is they want to introduce entrepreneursship.
Pius Wong 41:46
Yes. Okay. Yeah.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:47
So it is happening right now as a trend.
Pius Wong 41:50
Okay. Glad you told me. I didn't know if it was happening.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:52
I thought that's why you brought her up.
Pius Wong 41:54
I remember them talking about it. But I guess it's a thing now. That's awesome. So Melanie, if you're listening, congrats.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 41:59
Congratulations. That's a great job you're doing.
Pius Wong 42:02
And I think that she's not the only one. I know that there are other schools that have...
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 42:05
Yeah, it is definitely something.
Pius Wong 42:07
It follows that same model of an engineering design class. You spend maybe the first semester writing your business plan and everything that is involved, like the market validation, the prototyping, all that. And then in the second semester, you actually try to do it. And so it's a lot of work, I think, on the teachers' part, and we can check in with Melanie later to see how it goes.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 42:28
That would be awesome if she could join us in that conversation. Maybe just ask for a part two.
Pius Wong 42:35
We're going on forty-eight minutes now.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 42:38
Pius Wong 42:39
We'll have a part two for sure. And so my next question, maybe the last question, is like, if you've got teachers who are not entrepreneurs themselves -- this is like the exact same question we asked about engineers -- if you've got teachers who are not entrepreneurs, or not engineers, or not engineers or entrepreneurs, how can you expect them to teach those subjects?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 43:01
See that that makes me question that -- is entrepreneurship something that you teach? Or is it something that's nurtured?
Pius Wong 43:09
Is it born? Or is it made?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 43:10
Something like that.
Pius Wong 43:11
That's the question they always ask.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 43:13
I don't think entrepreneurship can be taught in a conventional sense. You can teach people how to make a business plan. You can teach people how to manage finances. But how can you teach willingness to people? I think it only has to -- It can only be nurtured. And I think teachers are the best --schools and teachers are the best place to nurture those kind of qualities.
Pius Wong 43:32
So what do you mean by nurture? You think that you can't teach it? You can only nurture it? What does that mean? What's the difference?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 43:40
The difference is, teaching is, hey these are the things. Do it. You learn it. You apply. You get the results. So that'd be teaching. You can teach math. You can teach finances. You can teach -- There's a lot of things you can teach.
Pius Wong 43:55
Literally showing them, okay, these are the steps to solving this problem. Go do it. Okay.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 44:00
Nurturing, on the other hand, is, all you can do is create an environment, create an atmosphere, that's conductive for certain qualities to be explored by the students.
Pius Wong 44:13
And to fail safely.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 44:15
The improv that you're talking about, to me, it seems like that you cannot teach impromptu anything. So all you can do is create an atmosphere of, hey, we are here to have fun. It's okay, if you fail. Everybody's gonna laugh with you. That's the atmosphere that's being created.
Pius Wong 44:29
That's funny. Improv trainers would say, yes, of course, you can teach improv.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 44:34
Pius Wong 44:35
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 44:35
Pius Wong 44:36
And s this is where -- no, I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm just saying that there's hope. So if you can teach improv, which is like, you know, level one, then maybe you can teach entrepreneurship at level ten.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 44:48
Pius Wong 44:49
And it is about creating a safe environment, where people will fail and experience failing over and over. I think that's the challenging part. Because with improv, you fail, like a million times in one class, and you get better. With entrepreneurship, I mean, in one year, how many businesses can you get one kid to start and fail, you know? I mean, here I am on my, like, third venture, and failing, you know? But it takes forever to go through that cycle. Because you learn through failing, you learn by doing everything. I think entrepreneurship just takes a long time.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 45:22
Pius Wong 45:23
Is there such a thing as an entrepreneurship or business simulation? Like, you know, how SimCity the video game -- like, I know that there's some video games where you simulate running a business like Roller Coaster Tycoon, and you have to start like a -- So I'm wondering, maybe there's a way to speed up that process. Or like, you can have mini businesses within your school. And like, I don't know, whether it's that bake sale, or you create a video game that you sell to your school, or you create this little robot, like, there must be a way to speed up that cycle of business: research, creation, execution, and maintenance or failure.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:01
Pius Wong 46:01
You know, it's funny. You're going to go on to do more engineering education work in the university.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:09
Pius Wong 46:10
And I would love if you found out if there was a way to speed up that cycle.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:17
Well, for now, all I'm looking at is, how can I how can we create an atmosphere. So but I think I should look into improv.
Pius Wong 46:27
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:28
Yeah, like, what do they do?
Pius Wong 46:28
I keep on saying that. I need an episode on improv in engineering, and I will get that one day.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:33
You've got two ideas for future episodes.
Pius Wong 46:35
Yes, I totally will do that one day. So then what else should go into a good environment? Or should we just leave the conversation there?
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:44
I think this definitely calls for part two. And if we could get Melanie into it, that'd be amazing, too.
Pius Wong 46:50
Yeah, we will find out how wrong we are about all our ideas.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:53
Yeah, I'm willing to.
Pius Wong 46:54
She's going to be the one who's like, I've done this. I know what works and what doesn't.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 46:58
So you fail and you learn, right?
Pius Wong 47:00
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 47:00
Pius Wong 47:02
All right. Well, Sadhan, this was a good talk.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 47:03
It was a good talk, yeah.
Pius Wong 47:04
Thanks for the questions. Thanks for the answers. And I hope that everyone listening has thought a little bit more about how they can teach entrepreneurship.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 47:15
Or just the idea of, hey, entrepreneurship is a thing that's a viable option. It is a viable thing that can happen -- is happening.
Pius Wong 47:24
Whether you like it or not.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 47:25
Yeah. You need to be aware of it right now. Just start getting aware of it. In a few years, I think it will be more in the school level, high school, middle school level, and it will get a lot more emphasis on it.
Pius Wong 47:36
We'll have competition for Pios Labs by people who've graduated from high school.
Sadhan Sathyaseelan 47:40
Pius Wong 47:41
Looking forward to it.
Pius Wong 47:48
On behalf of both Sadhan and me, thank you for listening. Let us know your thoughts on all this. Message of the show on Twitter @K12Engineering. Message Sadhan, @SadhanSathya, or message me, @PiusWong. If you listen on iTunes or Stitcher, please give us a rating and review. Follow the show on Facebook. And finally, you can send love to the show by donating on Patreon to Pios Labs. Find the details at the podcast website: k12engineering.net. Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor under a Creative Commons Attribution License. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of my independent studio Pios Labs, and you can support Pios Labs at www.patreon.com/pioslabs.