Student Startups and Scooters that Roar
They’re entrepreneurs. They’re innovators. They huddle with their teams, talking prototypes, branding and turning their products into the next big thing.
But this isn’t Silicon Valley — it’s a capstone class at the University of Louisville’s J.B. Speed School of Engineering, taught in two sections by Dr. Sundar Atre, of the mechanical engineering department, and Dr. Thad Druffel, of the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research.
Enrolled students were put into teams, and told to build a startup company around a product. A few even took their products to competitions, including the statewide business plan competition, Idea State U.
In Druffel’s section of the course, students built companies around solutions for renewable energy and energy efficiency. They used U of L facilities, including the FirstBuild maker space and micro factory.
One student startup — named LiON, for "lithium ion" — converted a scooter to run on a solar-powered lithium ion battery, and redesigned it to be more marketable.
"You're actually making a potential product for people to invest in," said Barbara Williams, an engineering student on team LiON. She added that students need to be able to think like a customer, whether they're studying design, business or engineering.
Druffel also included a handful of art and business students, plus mentors from the greater Louisville community to work alongside the engineers. He said working across disciplines prepares the students for real-world jobs that increasingly ask them to communicate with, rely on and learn from people with different backgrounds.
“There’s going to be a lot of people, and you have to learn, and learn really quick from them,” Druffel said. “We spend the first part of the course just talking about how you communicate as a team — and it’s serious.”
In Atre’s section of the course, teams were paired with graduate researchers to build companies around 3-D-printed prototypes. Among other things, teams used 3-D printing to design custom surgical tools or bone implants. You can read more about Atre’s teams here.
And for students who wanted to go further, Atre also offered to pay for the 10-week LaunchIt lean startup training program at UofL’s J.D. Nichols Campus for Innovation and Entrepreneurship downtown. Several students have taken him up on it.
“While entrepreneurship is not for everyone, I want to expose more of them to it,” he said. “Maybe some of them will take the next step.”