Howard Community College (HCC) has just completed a four-year Technology Assessment Program (TAP), initiated under an NSF-sponsored Partnership for Innovation Grant. TAP addresses the need to better prepare students for the workplace and increased global competition through an experiential learning opportunity centered on "innovation” as part of the college's entrepreneurial program. The entrepreneurship program itself was initiated as a result of recommendations made by HCC's Commission of the Future, a team comprised of community and business leaders.
Under TAP, students increase their knowledge about innovation and add unique skills – whether in high school, college, or as workers looking to enhance job skills or start a new business. The program has an added value: assisting in the transfer of U.S. government innovations to current or new businesses and creating new jobs and products. HCC's partners included: the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), the Howard County Economic Development Authority, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS), the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Harford Community College and Frederick Community College.
The centerpiece of TAP is the course "Taking Innovation to Market,” now an A.A.S. degree program elective in Entrepreneurship and other courses of study at HCC. The curriculum is designed to teach teamwork, critical thinking and decision-making skills through experiential learning coursework. Teams of high school, community college and continuing education students are guided by faculty, mentors, subject matter experts and inventors to evaluate a new U.S. Government innovation. Each semester, projects are selected to provide variety in type, likelihood of marketability, and new business opportunity. Student teams are assigned one of several innovations and asked to analyze the potential for commercialization (technology transfer) and new business formation.
The course uses the technology transfer cycle as the instructional platform and is taught as a three-hour evening session. The first half of the session is devoted to lecture, team activities and skill building centered on one of the cycle's components (e.g., intellectual property). The second half of each class is devoted to the team assessment project as it relates to that instructional component.
Students are instructed in the basics of a wide range of topics, such as: innovation drivers, disruptive technology, patents, the 4 Ps of marketing, valuation, licensing and business incubators. Multi-layer instruction enriches the learning experience, with film clips, activities, and real-life stories adding to student comprehension. Subject matter experts and mentors (assigned to each team) add varied perspectives for the students.
At the end of the course, students participate in HCC's Entrepreneurial Celebration, a public event where teams present their findings and recommendations to a panel of judges and an audience of business owners, entrepreneurs, researchers, technology transfer experts, and venture capitalists. Student technology assessment reports and the presentation materials are submitted to the partner laboratories to provide independent feedback and to assist the technology transfer offices to move innovations to businesses and facilitate new start-ups.
Results and Impact
The course "Taking Innovation to Market” enrolled 143 students (2006-2009), 75 percent of them high school juniors and seniors, and had a significantly diversified student population in gender, ethnicity, and age (ages 17 – 60). So far, the products of the grant include: 25 U.S. government innovation assessments; three new businesses started; one new product on the market, and two in development. Two of the new companies were founded by former students, and a regional entrepreneur founded a third. "Choice Batter®,” the first product of TAP start-up company, CrispTek, won the 2010 Best New Product Award at the 5th annual Maryland Bioscience Awards and is now carried in over 400 grocery stores in the US.
The resulting start-up companies have "added to the mix” of TAP's collaborations, with businesses and local entrepreneurs becoming fully engaged in the program. For example:
- Local law firms have provided pro bono business startup services;
- The Maryland Technology and Economic Development Corporation (TEDCO) has provided $75,000 in commercialization grant funding to each of the two new businesses started from USDA innovations;
- The county's NeoTech Business Incubator has accepted two TAP companies as residents; and
- SCORE counselors have provided guidance to company entrepreneurs.
In partnership with the Howard County Public School System, high school students use the course to complete high school requirements and receive college credit. Most of the students come from the county's Career Academies of Finance and Business. It was anticipated that the inclusion of high schools students in this endeavor would instigate involvement and interest of younger people in innovation and entrepreneurship in general. To measure the impact, a Student Interest Survey was implemented, pre and post course, to determine student career interests in nine different career areas. Pre/post survey results showed eight of the career areas had marginal increases or decreases in student interest. However, student career interest in entrepreneurship showed a significant pre-post survey increase, with 83 percent of the students expressing a high or very high degree of interest.
TAP also developed a course entitled "Young Inventors at Work” directed towards elementary and middle school students age 10-14. This week-long summer experience was intended to increase interest in innovation by providing students with activities that stimulate creativity. The program, taught by elementary and middle school teachers with assistance from HCC staff, has attracted a very diverse student population totaling 80 students.
During the fourth year of the program, the Technology Assessment Program Model, and related Course "Taking Innovation to Market” was documented and disseminated to new two partner institutions: Harford and Frederick Community Colleges. TAP provided training sessions for the college's instructors and the course was successfully run at both colleges.
The TAP program is now self-supporting at HCC through tuition, program fees and community sponsorships. The course "Taking Innovation to Market” and the "Young Innovators at Work” summer program continue to attract a diverse student population. TAP partnerships are strong, adding to the sustainability of the program; 31 individuals have already volunteered as mentors, subject matter experts, invited lecturers, instructors and judges. Local businesses and individuals provide sponsorship funding for HCC's capstone event and net revenue from the summer program is used to offer partial scholarships for the credit course. High school students and teachers are engaged; and the laboratories, community and the public are benefiting from the program. Finally, the USDA/ARS Office of Technology Transfer has cited TAP as a model for partnerships between education, government and economic development entities.
The Technology Assessment Program was funded by the National Science Foundation, Partnerships for Innovation Grant # 053875.