Tech Forward: Ready, Set, Innovate

By Dean Johnson | Published

Dean Johnson, dean of the School of Business and Economics, and colleagues examine the challenges and opportunities amongst future business leaders racing toward the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Firms exist to provide goods and services to benefit society. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, these goods and services will be deeply intertwined with new technologies. And while each iteration of technology-infused goods and services might be provocative or fascinating on the surface, the successful business leader of tomorrow will look past a new technology’s hype to ask, “What’s behind this and how can I leverage it to solve a business or social challenge?”

Consider Uber, Google Maps and intelligent highways. These GPS-derived innovations offer rich and lasting human and economic implications. Even in traditional manufacturing environments, sensor technology can be used to track and improve quality, reducing waste and revolutionizing the auditing process.

“Research tells us that technology whose popularity trails off, tend to be the innovations which offer meaningful solutions and opportunities,” says Russ Louks, professor of practice in the School of Business and Economics at Michigan Tech.

In the future, Michigan Tech’s intensive effort to uncover new discoveries must be matched by an exhaustive sprint toward economic applications benefitting society.

Race to Market

For much of our nation’s modern history, our prosperity can be attributed to our ability to harvest economic benefits from research. The country’s leadership in this arena, however, is at stake. While American universities tend to focus diligently on early-stage research and development, others have shifted to focus on accelerating late-stage innovation. The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) forecasted that in 2018, China would invest up to twice as much as the US in late-stage R&D spending. The report highlights lithium-ion batteries, notebook computers, and photovoltaic cells and panels—among others—as examples of products created with technologies that were invented in the US, but largely industrialized elsewhere. 

In this competitive landscape, the window of time to move through R&D to analyzing for commercial potential—and from concept to concept—must shrink. And whoever moves fastest will win.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Michigan Tech must set the pace, by working with  governments, partnering universities and the private sector. Teaming together, we can reap economic benefits from early R&D by completing the conversion into viable economic goods and services. To apply science for human and economic impact, Michigan Tech must expand connections to government and industry with an explicit focus to produce economically viable research and entrepreneurially minded students.

The Agile Entrepreneur

With Innovation Shore as our training ground, Michigan Tech continues to be on the leading edge of developing entrepreneurs. Our partnership and close proximity to the MTEC SmartZone business accelerator provide space, mentoring and resources to help turn student ideas into startups. On campus, the Office of Innovation and Commercialization ensures healthy funding for technology commercialization and business development. The Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, a collaboration between Pavlis Honors College and the School of Business, reimagined campus pitch competitions to become a series of workshops and events, to better guide and support students through key phases of innovation and business development.

Whether through startup entrepreneurial firms or innovation centers embedded in mature firms, the rapid conversion of technology is key for the delivery of goods and services in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Transferable skills, such as leadership, problem-solving and communication, will remain critical to retain employment viability. However, the nimble entrepreneur who combines these skills with a relentless focus on transforming technology into scalable commerce will be in the greatest demand.

There are multiple paths to becoming an adept entrepreneur, but two of the most reliable regimens are to be a business student with a deep appreciation of technology or be an engineer with a business underpinning of marketing research, financing and business plan development.

"Small business owners and entrepreneurs will need to accelerate their learning to keep pace with rapid advances in technology. This commitment to learning and adopting new technology positions individuals to lead and remain relevant in their market—or even disrupt an industry. Through this process, many reinvent themselves or their business models regularly with the goal of staying in front."Shane Jacques, Senior Business Consultant,
Small Business Development Center, Michigan Tech

The Dual-Sport Business Leader

The Fourth Industrial Revolution will demand business-savvy engineers and tech-savvy business leaders. To prepare business students for audacious change, the School of Business and Economics is undertaking sweeping transformations from hiring to curriculum. 

The creation of a minor in business will appeal to STEM students of all disciplines preparing for a workplace culture of risk-taking, collaboration, economic value creation and speed. We’re introducing a new master’s degree in engineering management that builds on industry demand for professionals with strong communication and technical skills in both business and engineering realms. New courses are being developed, including emerging technologies, risk management and financial technology innovations, and we’re looking for new faculty with strengths in both STEM fields and business experiences.

"Combining business with science, technology, engineering and math will be critical, and will continue to give business professionals, innovators, and entrepreneurs of all disciplines the edge required to move forward."Mari Buche, Associate Dean,
School of Business and Economics, Michigan Tech

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.

Last Modified 2:57 p.m. January, 2 2019


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