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The world has always relied upon innovators and entrepreneurs to solve big problems. But as the challenges grow more serious and the solutions more technical, it will take more than a lightbulb moment of sudden inspiration to produce viable solutions. Entrepreneurs and inventors need a process by which they can quickly and reliably iterate their ideas into products and services that deliver results.

At Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering, students are trained to do just that. For more than 30 years, the Integrated Innovation Institute (III) has been teaching graduate students formal innovation and design methods. And now, III educators are providing that same training to first-year engineering students in the new Introduction to Engineering Design, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship course.

The class is a prerequisite for the new additional engineering major in entrepreneurship and innovation that students can pursue along with their primary major in chemical, civil, electrical and computer, environmental, materials science, or mechanical engineering.

A classroom with thirteen students and Bodily

Students in the first Introduction to Engineering Design, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship class

Brandon Bodily, an assistant teaching professor in integrated innovation, taught the new course to 12 enthusiastic students, who applied what they were learning to the semester-long ,team-based project assignment to engineer a product or service to improve the biking experience in Pittsburgh.

“Innovation really is a process that can be taught and learned,” said Bodily, who spent 20 years working in product development.

He says the broad scope of the assignment is ideal for first-year engineering students in any major because they can think about solutions through the lens of whichever engineering discipline they’re most interested in.

“Civil engineers might want to consider the roadways, while electrical and computer engineers want to create devices,” said Bodily whose enthusiastic and open-minded approach fostered the creative mindset the students needed to apply to the project.

Innovation really is a process that can be taught and learned.

Brandon Bodily, Assistant Teaching Professor, Integrated Innovation Institute

The students responded to both the subject matter and Bodily’s flexible approach.

“Entrepreneurship has always been a goal of mine, and this new approach to literally integrate innovation and design was very valuable,” said Samy Penmasani, who added that she had already planned to pick up a major in entrepreneurship had she not found this program.

“But this is an even cooler version!”

Leo Hoplamazian agreed. He explained that “Applying engineering skills in a real-world context to solve problems is exactly what I want to do with my engineering degree.”

Entrepreneurship has always been a goal of mine, and this new approach to literally integrate innovation and design was very valuable.

Samy Penmasani, first-year student, College of Engineering

The four student teams developed ingenious and distinct ideas as they progressed through the innovation framework lessons that are the hallmark of much of the teaching at the III.

They followed a process that began by developing a problem statement to clarify what challenge their ultimate product or service could solve.

Next, they conducted both market research and consumer interviews in order to frame a set of key findings and insights. They identified a product opportunity gap, to show how their new product or service could fulfill an unmet need. And they sought to better understand their potential customer by creating a buyer persona, a semi-fictional representation of their ideal customer, which included identifying what that customer most likely valued.

Using these values, the students were able to determine the product requirements that would need to be incorporated into their final concept, which led to the final phase to conceptualize their ideas. At the end of the semester, the teams presented their concepts to their classmates, instructors, and Peter Boatwright, director of the III and professor of marketing.

“I really appreciate the enthusiasm you showed,” Boatwright told the class. “You obviously put a lot of effort into this, but I see that you really enjoyed it too. That’s what I was thrilled to see—you were passionate about it!”

That enthusiasm obviously spread to other first-year engineering students. The class size for next semester grew nearly six-fold to 60 students having enrolled for the course in the spring session.

As for their projects, the budding entrepreneurs came up with four ways to improve biking in Pittsburgh.

Walter Light combines features of several existing products into one remote controlled device that featured mirrors and sound indicators to alert bikers when cars or pedestrians were nearby, and lights and electronic turn signals to make drivers more aware of bikers. Unlike a competitive product, Tether, Walter Light did not include navigation because the team’s research revealed that their target customer was a commuter who had little need for wayfinding on their daily rides.

IREADY is a wide mirror, mounted in the center of a bike’s handlebars that is made of a flexible material that allows the biker to customize the mirror for an optimal view. It is equipped with lights and ultrasonic sensors that alerts a cyclist when a vehicle has entered their blind spot.  The team’s product requirements included a durable, easy to install, adjustable design that could be used with any type of bike that created a feeling of safety, control, and confidence—values they prioritized after interviewing bikers.

Electro is a detachable electric motor that clips onto a bike to make climbing Pittsburgh’s steep hills easier while also allowing bikers to retain the experience of free riding, which was an important feature to the bikers the team interviewed. Electro forfeits the 70-mile range of an e-bike for a shorter 30-mile limit, which the team believed would be adequate for most commuters. The shorter range could also equate to higher speeds, and the smaller size motor would take less time to charge. The team estimated that the cost of Electro would be about half as much as an e-bike.

Bike Link Express sought to improve public transportation options for Pittsburgh bikers who are dissatisfied with the current Pittsburgh Regional Transit system. Bikers reported that it can be stressful to mount their bikes to the front of the buses, which inconveniences the other bus riders. Their idea, which was modeled after an existing program in Vancouver, would provide a special fleet of buses designed to transport bikers and their bikes. The buses would have wider doors and lowering systems that would make it easy to board bikes, which could then be easily secured with a simpler locking mechanism inside the bus.

For media inquiries, please contact Lynn Shea at