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Taking the Leap from Engineering to Entrepreneurship

Every engineer who’s invented some new technology or is adept at coming up with innovative solutions believes that the hard part is over and the step to take that solution to market as an entrepreneur should be easy. And many engineers are in for a shock.

In reality, that seemingly short step from engineer to entrepreneur means significantly more risk.

In fact, a survey conducted by Duke and Harvard of over 500 technology companies found that only 37% of leaders had any background in engineering or computer science.

Taking the Leap from Engineering to Entrepreneurship

Engineers should definitely think twice before they assume that they have an advantage when it comes to being an entrepreneur, no matter how great the product they’ve come up with is.

The good news is that there are many great resources out there to help engineers make the transition to entrepreneurs. Krishna Uppuluuri’s book, ‘Engineer to Entrepreneur: The First Flight’ is a good start. The book identifies the main business perceptions most engineers have, along with providing a workbook approach to provide a quick start on various business lifecycle topics.

Here’s what to keep in mind if you are considering making the transition from engineering to entrepreneurship.

A Great Product Doesn’t Always Make a Great Entrepreneur:

The old adage ‘if we built it, they will come’ tends to be a common misconception amongst engineers who are considering starting their own business to sell a product they developed.

In reality, simply building a solution alone won’t magically make it connect with customers, manage the competition, or communicate the offering to the industry. Today, we’re definitely in an era of information overload. Selling and marketing skills are absolutely crucial to ensure your product takes off, no matter how awesome it is.

Thinking that your product alone will act as a customer magnet is a dangerous mindset to have. So, before you make the leap from engineer to entrepreneur, it pays to develop some skills that you can use to put your product in front of the market, promote it, and connect with your target audience.

How do you do this?

  1. Enroll in a relevant training program or degree: Online learning and online degree programs have made it easier than ever for you to gain the relevant skills you need before transitioning to entrepreneurship, without messing up your already busy schedule. If you want to keep things engineering-focussed then you can find degree programs that combine both engineering and management at Kettering University Online. Or you could opt for a learning program from Kettering University Online that walks you through the basics of business and building the skills necessary to become a successful entrepreneur.
  2. Network: As an engineer, you’re probably no stranger to networking; it’s just as crucial in this industry as it is in the business world. You probably already network to keep your engineering knowledge current and stay in the loop about new projects or job opportunities. Switch your networking focus to the business world and connect with people who can offer valuable advice and support. Even better if you can find a network of successful engineers turned entrepreneurs who you can learn from.
  3. Get a mentor: Business mentoring is a fantastic idea for anybody new to entrepreneurship, whether from an engineering background or not. Choose a mentor who is able to be honest with you and tell you how it is; you’re going to benefit a lot more from that compared to somebody who won’t stop you in your tracks when you’re on the brink of making a huge mistake.

Don’t Rely On a Cool or New Idea to Sell Itself:

Similar to the above, just because something is cool and new in the market doesn’t always mean that it’s going to do well. Sure, people love new innovations – but is there actually any demand for it? There’s no point spending a huge amount of time and money designing and creating a product, only for people to say ‘that’s cool, but I don’t need one’.

Before you invest your time, energy and finances into an idea, assess the commercial viability. In layman’s terms, make sure that other people are going to be as excited about it as you are.

This means:

  1. Conduct market research
  2. Evaluate market research
  3. Get customer feedback from prototypes
  4. Speak to successful executives in the same business area and ask about their concerns

Market Research


You should be able to answer these two crucial questions:

  • Can my business turn a profit with this product?
  • Can I ultimately use this product to scale my business?

You can use prototype testing, concept testing, market testing, and focus groups to find clear answers to these questions – but it can be complex, expensive, and time-consuming.

Conduct a product viability analysis yourself; start by asking these questions:

  • Is my product idea practical?
  • What challenges and obstacles will I face?
  • Will support services be required in order to ensure customer satisfaction?

Once you’ve answered these questions, shift your focus to the tactical aspects of your product and the impact it will have on your business model. Consider:

  1. Size and weight: The size and weight of a physical will impact how much you sell; you may have high shipping costs for a product idea that’s large, heavy or awkwardly shaped.
  2. Product fragility: Fragile products can also impact shipping costs, as they need extra attention to ensure that they arrive in perfect condition
  3. Product lifespan: Are you developing a product that customers will need to purchase again and again over time or a lifetime product?
  4. Price point: What’s the value of your product? Are customers willing to pay the price you plan to ask for it?
  5. Competition: Is anyone else selling a similar item? How successful are they?

Customers Should Be the Main Priority From Day One:

Many engineers think that they need to ensure functionality is maximized before they can begin to focus on customers. But the reality is much further from the truth. In fact, there’s no way that you can engineer the functionality right until you start focusing on customers.

From a customer’s perspective, superfluous functionality is nothing short of a failure. Ship fast, make changes, and iterate should be every engineering entrepreneur’s motto today.

Customers should be involved in every part of your product’s development process. Allowing them access to prototypes and beta testing, for example, gives you the perfect opportunity to find out exactly what your target audience is looking for and what they think of your product.

Waiting right until you’ve ended development to showcase your product to customers can be a massive risk to take. Imagine if you put all that work in and not a single potential customer likes the product or thinks it’s worth buying. Involving your customers in the development process eliminates the risk of that situation occurring.

Some popular options for collaborating with customers during the design process include:

  1. Polls and surveys: These can help an entrepreneur understand the key customer pain points. Speak with at least thirty potential customers either face-to-face, via telephone or digital media to get their insights and ideas after being led through the product development process.
  2. Social media: If it’s instant feedback you’re looking for, social media is your best bet. Simply create a post with details of your product and the development process or post a Facebook Live video and invite followers to share their thoughts.
  3. Prototype testing: Testing early prototypes is a must for physical product development. Early adopters tend to jump at the opportunity to give their feedback – after all, they are invested in finding new solutions to their problems.

You Need to Embrace Risk and Unpredictability:

The difference between entrepreneurs and engineers is that while good entrepreneurs tend to see risk as a positive thing and embrace it as an opportunity, most good engineers can be quite cautious and risk-averse. In their respective careers, this may work well, but the truth is that continuing to be risk-averse when switching from engineering to entrepreneurship will not do you any favors.

The result of this mindset means that, unfortunately, many engineer-driven solutions tend to arrive too little, too late in the fast-paced market of today. In order to be successful with a startup of any kind, it’s important to manage risk rather than avoid it completely.

Some startup risks you’ll need to accept and manage include:

  1. There is no guarantee your customers will like your product enough to purchase it.
  2. There’s a chance you may not make sufficient profits to be able to repay any funding borrowed to finance your venture in the early stages.
  3. You may not have the correct price at the beginning and may need to raise in the future, running the risk of losing customers.
  4. As the business expands, you may need to delegate important tasks to employees who you do not yet know well.
  5. Venturing into a new market or launching a new product line always brings risks in terms of logistics and geography.

The transition from engineer to entrepreneur might not be as clear-cut as you think. But with the right preparation, it’s an excellent move for any engineer who’s developed a marketable product.