Dave Campbell always wanted to be an inventor. But first he had to reinvent himself.
The Springboro resident is doing just that with the help of a new Wright State program that is geared to turn engineers into business professionals and entrepreneurs.
Campbell is enrolled in the Master’s in Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship program (MEIE). Through this program, he is learning the business side of what it takes to turn an idea into a commercial product.
He is building on the bachelor’s degree in industrial technology he earned in 2006 from Ohio University in Athens. That degree helped him land a job first in the boating industry in Florida, and in 2008 at BEHR Dayton Thermal Products, where he works today as a continuous improvement process engineer.
Campbell said he enjoys his job at BEHR and is happy to be back in the Dayton area, where he and his wife are raising two small children.
But he says he always has had an entrepreneurial itch to invent new gadgets and sell them to the world.
“My ideal job is to come up with new products and get them to market,” he said.
He envisioned creating a small business in parallel to his current one. But it was an itch his undergraduate courses didn’t teach him how to scratch. “It’s tricky. The big part is understanding who wants what and how to get it to them,” he said.
Campbell knew he needed to learn more about business development and technology commercialization. He signed up for weekend courses in Wright State’s MBA program in 2009. Wright State rolled out the MEIE program that same year, and Campbell switched to it in the middle of 2010.
For Campbell, the MEIE program was the best of both worlds. It offered a master’s degree in his chosen field of engineering, but it also exposed him to the business world—and, more importantly, where the two meshed.
The program is a collaboration between Wright State’s College of Engineering and Computer Science and the Raj Soin College of Business. Its aim is to boost economic development in Ohio by creating a pool of graduates with the blend of engineering and business skills needed to help corporations and entrepreneurial firms speed products to market.
“The breakneck pace of technological advancement makes it imperative that Ohio’s labor force be equipped with both the technical and engineering skills needed to foster the innovation of the next big thing and the entrepreneurial and business knowledge that is necessary to guide innovation and speed its diffusion throughout the market,” said S. Narayanan, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Developing graduate programs in technological entrepreneurship and industrial innovation “is a powerful tool to help stem the tide and reverse the condition of long-term economic decline,” said Robert Premus, professor of economics, who co-directs the program with Narayanan.
The MEIE program requires students to produce a product or service, said Mary Fendley, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the program’s advisor. Campbell’s project is a new product, an innovative charger for cellphone batteries.
Students typically team up with local businesses for their projects, Fendley said, but Campbell is working with other MEIE students to form their own business. The charger will be the first of several products they have in mind.
“We started looking at the market and said, ‘This is a big market. This is a useful device, and nobody else is making it,’” Campbell said. The group meets regularly with the Small Business Development Center office in the Entrepreneur Center in downtown Dayton, halfway between Campbell’s home in Springboro and Wright State’s main campus.
“This is an example of the true entrepreneurial spirit of the MEIE program,” Fendley said.
Learning the secrets of entre-preneurship has not resulted in any “eureka” moments, Campbell said, but “I’m seeing how the pieces fit together.”
One thing he has learned is how much work it can take to do seemingly simple chores—patent research, for example. “That was a real eye opener. It’s really laborious,” Campbell said. “I thought you could just do a Google search.”
In addition to his full-time job, his master’s program, and his business-building project, Campbell has taken on an internship with the Ohio Board of Regents as a member of its Technology Commercialization Task Force. He said he is one of 20 students around the state charged with finding new ways that universities can partner with businesses to aid economic development.
“The state has an incentive to get technology out of university laboratories and into the marketplace,” Campbell said. “It parallels what we’re doing in the MEIE program. It’s technology commercialization.”
Campbell sees his work on the task force as a way to help pay back the state university system for the help it is giving him through the MEIE program. But he admits it is also a good way to build business connections for his future company.
According to Campbell, his participation is another way the MEIE program is creating new career options for him. “It’s opening a lot of doors and creating opportunities,” he said. “I can speak both languages, engineering and business. I think that’s the benefit of the program.”