catalyzing early & robust support for student entrepreneurs: q&a with sadan kulturel-konak from Penn State Berks

Kulturel Konak

Our Faculty Spotlight series highlights educators within the VentureWell network who are catalyzing change in higher education and motivating students to impact the world through STEM innovation. This month, we spoke with Sadan Kulturel-Konak, Professor of Management Information Systems at Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Berks, who received a Faculty Grant in 2018 for her course accelerating the formation of cross-disciplinary student-led STEM innovation teams. Kulturel-Konak works to engage students in entrepreneurial concepts early in their academic careers by integrating them into introductory engineering and IT classes. By supporting interdisciplinary teams through grants and coaching, Kulturel-Konak is developing a system to support student innovation through the entirety of the process—from classroom to marketplace.

how did you get interested in teaching entrepreneurship? 

I wanted to provide our students with the ability to be creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. Our Entrepreneurship Program provides students with the tools and experiences to creatively pursue new opportunities and innovations. We guide our student entrepreneurs in advancing from ideation to execution and help them to see if their startup ideas are likely to succeed in the marketplace. This is a vital step to successful entrepreneurship; observing how our students are transformed through this process is very exciting.

what is your favorite thing about teaching? 

There are many things that I like about teaching. I enjoy mentoring young and bright brains and helping them learn and apply. Teaching also forces me to constantly learn new topics since we need to regularly update the content of entrepreneurship classes due to the rapid changes in technology and society. 

where would you like to see the field of entrepreneurship in five years? 

I would like to see an entrepreneurial mindset or a design thinking course embedded in all college freshman curricula. This will allow students to start developing innovative mindsets and thinking about entrepreneurship early. 

what are the challenges you’re tackling in your work today? 

I wish that students could have more time to work on their fantastic ideas and more willingness to pursue entrepreneurial paths. Our students are quite busy with their course work and other engagements outside of the college. 

what books on entrepreneurship and innovation have you been reading lately? 

I really enjoyed Design a Better Business by Patrick van der Pijl, Justin Lokitz, and Lisa Kay Solomon. Each section of the book is filled with personal stories and experiences from design practitioners and business leaders. 

what’s your most useful classroom activity or assignment? 

I weave in a customer discovery assignment, using Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad philosophy. Once student teams have innovative ideas, based on their Value Proposition Canvas and initial comments raised by myself and their classmates, students come up with their assumptions/hypotheses to test with their potential customers. Then, they get out of the building and do their customer discovery interviews. Customer discovery tests whether their problem, product, value, and customer hypotheses in the value proposition is correct. 

Finally, students convey the findings through their customer interviews and any pivots from their original ideas in a five-minute class presentation. After they present, everybody else in class comments on the findings and pivots. Students learn so much from these interviews—and from the feedback given during and after interviews. 

VentureWell Faculty Grants provide up to $30,000 to help fund and support faculty with innovative ideas to create new or transform existing courses and programs to help students develop novel, STEM-based inventions and gain the necessary entrepreneurial skills needed to bring these ideas to market.

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