About Ideas to Impact
The central objective of Professor Zeljko Tekic’s course, “Ideas to Impact,” is to equip students with an understanding of the main issues involved in the commercialization of technological advances at both strategic and operational levels. The course brings together Skoltech students from all the Institute’s scientific and technical disciplines as well as from both years of study, providing an excellent environment for creative work and development of ideas.
Students are introduced to a range of skills and entrepreneurial tools; these include opportunity recognition and problem definition through interviewing potential users, how to identify user groups of interest and approach them, how to use design thinking and scenario development for problem solving and so on. Many of these topics are completely new to the students, as they do not normally use them in the context of scientific and engineering settings. Thus, to facilitate the students’ learning throughout the eight weeks, they are engaged in a real-life, technology-based innovation challenge and go through an intensive hands-on startup-like experience.
Signify (formerly Philips Lighting) supported the 2018 course by providing a challenge related to commercializing connected lighting and supplying students with the adequate equipment (Philips Hue smart web-enabled LED home lighting systems). The students (52 of them organized into 10 teams) had to apply everything taught in the classroom with the goal of designing strategies for crossing the chasm (the gap that exists between the tech-savvy early adopters, and the more cautious, mainstream consumers) and making the Philips Hue smart system reach the mass market in Russia & CIS.
As part of “Ideas to Impact,” students met representatives from Signify on three occasions. Among these representatives were Dr. Kars-Michiel Lenssen (Director/Principal Scientist at Signify, Eindhoven) and Elina Dayanova (Marketing Manager at Signify for Russia/Central Asia), both of whom offered their input and feedback on the teams’ progress. At the end of the course, the members of the team, along with the runners up, deemed to have the best strategy and given the best presentation, each won a Philips Hue lighting system as a prize.
Student feedback was key to understanding how they coped with the work, what their impressions were not only about themselves, but also about the course itself.
“The main point I took from this course is that I can focus not just on the technical side of things, but also on some real-life aspects such as how people can use my product, and whether they actually need it at all. It’s not just research for research’s sake,” said Daria, a Master’s student at Skoltech.
Other students highlighted their unfamiliarity with business/economics-related topics and discussed in what ways the course benefited them.
“It was also interesting to see how people create a startup and what challenges they face,” said Elizaveta Maslova, a current Skoltech student whose background is general and applied physics. “Prior to this, I didn’t understand anything about business, but this course made it understandable.”
“When you have ideas, how do you protect them?” asked Victor Baribande, a student of Advanced Manufacturing Technology at Skoltech. “When you’re in a company, how do you function not just as an engineer or a scientist, but as someone who is focused on growing the business? These are the things that they helped us understand during the course of this project.”
Feedback from other participants was in a similar vein. For nearly all of the interviewees, this type of work was something entirely new but also challenging. The overall impression was that they enjoyed the process and had learned about a subject that they had little prior knowledge of; the students could also see that it would serve a practical purpose for developing their ideas.
The Winning Teams
1st place: Abayomi Koyejo, Natalia Pavlovskaia, Ivan Volodin, Valerii Okatenko, and Soodanbek Kasymalie
Theme: A scenario in which connected lighting (HUE) could prevent burglars from breaking into homes
2nd place: Anastasia Lubinets, Andrei Chemikhin, Jean Carlos Andrade De Carli, Mikhail Pustovgarov, Nikita Kotelevskii, Stepan Konev
Theme: Decreasing the level of stress and physical discomfort during pregnancy
3rd place: Elizaveta Maslova, Iakov Vasilev, Michele Galasso, Taras Melnik, Vladimir Ramzhaev
Theme: Beautification of rented apartments
Dr. Kars-Michiel Lenssen (Signify Director/Principal Scientist)
Elina Dayanova (Signify Marketing Manager for Russia/Central Asia)
The judges’ professional opinion would be the most important facet for understanding how far the students had come since the beginning of the course.
“I think overall it was good,” said Dr. Lenssen. “I could see that certain students are inventors in that they can come up with a very nice idea, but it’s a question of how to get that to the mass market. Overall, I think they all did their best and presented interesting aspects.”
“From my perspective, the quality of the presentations was quite high,” said Mrs Dayanova. “The chosen topics resonate even within Signify and some of them have been considered for further development. We understand that they are coming from different backgrounds, and that for them writing a business case is something new and there were certain things that were missing. For instance, they did not always clearly define their target audience and the market research needs more work. On the other hand, I could see the students’ enthusiasm and their eagerness to learn; that is a good grounding for future development.”
When asked about the students’ progress throughout the course, both judges were very frank.
“I’ve been here three times, together with Elina,” said Dr. Lenssen. “During the mid-term, they presented several ideas and we gave pointers and advised on what topic to follow; now we are here again for the finals. I think they really took the feedback into account and tried their best to build on it.”
“I also saw good idea development,” said Mrs Dayanova. “At first these were quite general, but with the help of some of our comments, they narrowed them down. You could really see their ideas coming into sharper focus along with their business cases. From the challenge briefing we could see good development and also potential problems; but then we saw the results in the presentations and the quality was quite high.”
Dr. Zeljko Tekic’s course “Ideas to Impact,” presents new challenges for its participants. Most had never had experience in business or marketing, but they jumped in with apparent enthusiasm and every interview reflected this positive attitude. The results show that teaching entrepreneurship, innovation concepts and skills to science and technology students helps them unlock their innovation potential. Innovation is a cornerstone of Skoltech, and such courses are an important means to attract international students as well as Russian students. It also shows that having no background in business, marketing or entrepreneurship does not prevent students from succeeding in these fields. They listened to professional feedback and built upon it, they worked together to bring their ideas forward to the final stage and, most importantly, they showed a genuine interest and need to succeed. Yet what else can we expect from students of an academic caliber such as theirs?
Professor Tekic: “I would like to thank everyone who made this course an exciting and memorable experience for the students and myself. To the students for being engaged and working hard; to Signify Company, particularly Kars-Michiel and Elina for supporting us; to all guest speakers who shared their stories and passion; and especially, to the two teaching assistants that worked with me – Olga Gavrilenko and Patimat Мurtazalieva.”
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