Published: April 11, 2022

A new program at the University of Colorado Boulder guides engineering students on an “entrepreneurial journey to learn the business side of innovation."

The ESCEND program, led by the Stephen M. Dunn Director of Engineering Entrepreneurship & ESCEND® Karen Crofton and made possible through the support of Steve Dunn (ArchEngr’69), allows students to turn their ideas not only into reality, but into a product able to be commercialized.

The program combines entrepreneurship courses with experiences and resources that give CU Boulder engineering students the chance to create a product and then pitch it to investors.

“We’re applying experiential learning in order to mimic real life,” said Crofton. “By learning the entrepreneurial process, students are able to apply these skillsets to any future endeavor.”

Several of the students utilizing the ESCEND program have even been competing in the New Venture Challenge, the final round of which will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, at the Boulder Theater. 

One of the groups applied the cross-disciplinary aspects of ESCEND to participate in the NVC 15 Cross-Campus Collaboration Prize Night. Delta Horizons was awarded first prize and $5,000 in March for their new self-stopping braking system for four-wheeled walkers. The group has student team members from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Leeds School of Business.

“This is a deeply personal topic for all of us,” said project manager Ben Finan, a senior engineering student. “As a team, we noticed a lack of innovation in current mobility devices and thought, ‘We can do better.’ We all have aging loved ones in our lives, and we were motivated to use our passion and engineering background to make a difference in this field.”

The braking system that Delta Horizons created works automatically when the walker stops. It is also engineered to deploy a second brake in the event of a person falling.

After the team proposed the walker idea, they conducted a significant amount of outreach and research, speaking with medical experts and mobility walker users.

Finan said the most important entrepreneurial lesson he learned while working with Delta Horizons was to listen to people.

“Everyone has problems in their lives,” he said. “If engineers are able to listen to those problems and create a solution, that can change the world. Understanding your customers’ pain point is absolutely critical to product success.”

Crofton said that by teaching the engineering students about entrepreneurship and business simultaneously, they can think not only about good technical solutions, but also about creating a product that people will want to purchase.

“It is easy for engineers to get focused on technical details,” she said. “By working with students from other disciplines, all team members are able to support a viable, feasible and desirable product.”

Finan can attest to the experience, which he said has been incredible and a great introduction to the real world of engineering. He knows what he learned will benefit him after he graduates in May.

“I have been so lucky to work with a truly fantastic team of smart, kind and motivated people,” he said. “I am also supported by an incredible network of people from the Business and Engineering colleges. Being able to pivot from a business pitch to a technical analysis has made me fluent in so many types of communication. I have also learned a lot about myself and my own passions, which will serve me well as I navigate the professional landscape.”