This past Monday, April 24th, was the final pitch day and culmination of the Technology Innovation Entrepreneurship (TIE) courses for Spring 2023. The course is part of the two-series TIE I and TIE II courses that are offered in the Fall and Spring, jointly by the Schools of Business and Engineering. The courses provide a unique opportunity for students from both schools to form interdisciplinary teams and work on technology-based innovations together.
The course is led by Dr. Leila Daneshmandi, Assistant Professor in Residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the School of Engineering and Director of the Entrepreneurship Hub (eHub) and Sam Nanayakkara, a startup expert and an entrepreneur. Professor Nanayakkara is a professional in startup operations and digital technology who uses his skill sets as an adjunct professor within the School of Business. The dynamic between the two professors is meant to directly mirror the interdisciplinary communication that the course seeks to highlight between the students. Daneshmandi states that “part of the course’s training is in teamwork, collaboration, and communication. It’s important to be able to communicate your work both internally to people within your team, and externally to stakeholders.”
MENT 3500 and 3501 have allowed me more growth than any other classes I’ve taken. A component of the class is certainly to develop an idea and try to expand it into a business, but more than anything I’ve learned it’s about the process. These courses have taught me to look at startup companies under a perspective vastly different from how I once would’ve thought about them. An entrepreneur with just an idea has nothing. Taking these classes allows one to grasp a glimpse into the perseverance and dedication necessary to turn an idea into an actual business. — Joshua Ross - Business - Health Care Management / Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Senior
The students on Monday had spent a full semester or two developing solutions for problems or issues they were passionate about. “We begin from the very early stages of entrepreneurship and startup development. Students join at any stage, some have an idea, some have identified a problem they’re passionate about and ready to solve, and some are just curious and interested in learning about entrepreneurship and what it means. We welcome everyone, anyone at any stage.” states Daneshmandi. Nanayakkara adds: “It’s like an incubator. We take students with different disciplines and skills into our environment so they will work together to build a startup idea.”
The courses are project-based experiential courses for students to learn and train in entrepreneurial concepts such as user-centric innovation, future of work, industry trends, product-market fit, business and revenue models, and startup strategy. “Our focus is on technology startups, the high-tech high-growth future venture-backed startups.” states Daneshmandi. The students begin with areas they’re interested in, and gradually learn the concepts to help them build a technology innovation and connect that into growing a startup and business. “We learn everything in the course together. No entrepreneurship experience is necessary. We only ask that you come in curious, open to learn, and ready to build out your own vision.”
Students can enter both at the undergraduate level, junior and above, and graduate level. In addition to learning the entrepreneurial mindset, they also heavily train in communication, collaboration, teamwork, big picture thinking, and problem solving. Part of bringing students from different disciplines together is to promote dialogue and cross-talk among different backgrounds. Students from Engineering and Business are asked to join teams with people from outside their majors to promote collaborative thinking. Nanayakkara emphasizes: “It’s all about the environment. We create the right environment and equip students with the right tools. Then they will generate novel ideas that will eventually evolve into startups.”
The course Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship given here at UConn has been a valuable and rewarding experience for me. I’ve learned what it takes to get a business off the ground and into a successful venture. The class has also made me a better public speaker as it taught me to present my ideas in a clear and concise way while still effectively communicating my message. All of this is attributed to Professors Sam Nanayakkara and Leila Daneshmandi. They each have extensive experience in either working with or starting their own startups. They provided us with a rich experience in having us start a business and making us take the exact steps that is necessary to succeed. — Sage Bhagwansingh - Business - Management / Real Estate Senior
The TIE courses have two versions, one in the Fall and the other in the Spring and are a major part of the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Minor. Both courses end with a final pitch day, with guest judges. The judges at these events have the background and expertise to offer personalized feedback to the ventures that the students are working on. Under this umbrella, the professors work to bring in serial entrepreneurs, investors, other professors from different schools, industry leaders, business executives, and alumni. This gives the students the opportunity to receive professional and senior feedback and advice on their work, and to network with the entrepreneurship ecosystem within Connecticut.
The final takeaway from the course is that although one could view the overarching goal of a technology-based entrepreneurship course as preparing students for developing their own startups, Daneshmandi had a different perspective. She stated “It’s about empowering the students to think entrepreneurially as well, not necessarily to incorporate a business tomorrow… It’s about the entrepreneurial mindset and
developing a problem-solving, solution-seeking mindset. So if you see a problem somewhere do you feel empowered enough to take on the challenge.”
This course and all the effort which the professors put in work to directly support and better entrepreneurship at our university. This is paralleled with other programs like the Entrepreneurship Hub through the School of Engineering, the Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship, and the Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (
The student ventures that presented were Breakthru Productions, Unipack, Tick Me Off, ParticleN, iMed India, SmarterHome, SEN Solutions, ShadeSnap, and Toribio.
One of the things that stood out to me was the emphasis on practical, hands-on learning. The class was structured in a way that allowed us to apply what we were learning in real time. We were encouraged to work on our own business ideas and projects and receive feedback and guidance from both the instructors and our peers. This helped us to win four awards in different entrepreneurship competitions and raise over $40K of prizes during the last month only. — Al Kasani, Chemical Engineering PhD Student