UAB design class partners engineers and entrepreneurs

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design class
From left: Brandon Sherrod, Austin Johnson, Josh Haynes

An innovative class pairs engineering students with business students to design and commercialize marketable solutions. A wheelchair that toddlers can control with a joystick and an affordable home wheelchair weight scale are two of the six outcomes from this collaboration.

“Every year, School of Engineering seniors design products that are able to impact lives immediately,” said Alan Eberhardt, PhD., professor of the engineering class and associate dean, School of Engineering. “It only makes sense to involve School of Business students and have them engineer a plan to bring these products to market.”

The class is a two-semester project. Semester one combines both groups of students. They meet with, and analyze lists of needs from Birmingham-based businesses. The engineers looked at which products could be expanded upon; the business students looked at which products could be marketed. Semester two has the students split up with the engineers building the prototype, and the business students draft a business plan.

The two schools share the same building with business housed in the west wing and engineering in the east wing. Students recognize that they are divided by more than the Business-Engineering Complex (BEC) lobby.

“I learned quickly that engineers think and speak a different language,” said Cliff Goolsby, a senior from Florala, Ala., majoring in management with a concentration in business administration. “But the diversity of the two schools is also what makes this class special. My team worked hard together so we could understand each other and make the dysfunctional, functional; so I have learned more in this class than any other at UAB.”

“I gained a new respect for the business side because we didn’t walk in thinking about how much it costs to build a wheelchair scale or the dollars the product could potentially earn; we just wanted a functioning prototype,” said Brandon Sherrod, a senior biomedical engineer from Florence, Ala.

The class, which is part of the new UAB Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, provided teams the opportunity to pitch their product to potential investors at the beginning of the second semester. With prototype in hand, the students faced a team of veteran commercial experts including Terry Bray, Ph.D., a senior licensing associate with the UAB Research Foundation (UABRF) and Dennis Leonard, an innovation consultant also with the UABRF.

Joel Dobbs, Pharm.D., MPH, executive in residence in entrepreneurship at the UAB School of Business, worked with both groups of students.

“This class is our way of investing in UAB students and society at large because there is no benefit to anyone if these ideas die when the semester ends,” said Dobbs. “I recognize that some of these designs are commercially viable now.”