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5:24 PM  September 8, 2020

Engineering special forces: why does TPU teach every student business?

© Валерий Доронин, пресс-служба мэрии ТомскаEngineering special forces: why does TPU teach every student business?

TOMSK, Sep 8 – RIA Tomsk, Elena Taylasheva. TPU attracted about 50 million investments in student business projects last year. Each freshman – there are about 1500 of them this year – is not only a future engineer, but also a potential entrepreneur. Why does a startup need an engineering education and what environment helps to create breakthrough products – is in the material of RIA Tomsk.

Case study method

Given: one of the areas of the food industry, growing from year to year. Exports are also increasing – by tens of percent per year.

Problem: production uses imported components, which have no analogues in Russia. And there are raw materials for them.

In principle, these initial data can be applied to dozens of areas of food industry – the problems of import substitution in the industry are painfully similar. But some manage to find a solution – if they applied to the right place...

"Two years ago, the investor set a task for Tomsk Polytechnic University: to develop a technology for the production of a sorbent for bleaching oils based on clay from one of the deposits", – Director of the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship (SEE) of Tomsk Polytechnic University Aleksander Osadchenko is quoted.

The task was taken up by two TPU students – Vlada Badretdinova and Tatyana Serykh. Although both did not study directly at School of Engineering Entrepreneurship (bur received a specialty in "chemical technology"), they actively participated in the entrepreneurial track of the university.

They plunged into the problem, starting from scratch. For example, from the fact that the oil and fat industry is growing rapidly: a couple of years ago, in terms of shipments of rapeseed oil, Russia took the second place in the world after Canada. That adsorptive refining (bleaching) – is an obligatory stage of production, it helps not only to improve the presentation of vegetable oil, but to rid it of toxic substances.

That for this purpose, bleaching earths obtained during the activation of natural materials are used. And most importantly, foreign bleaching clay imported from Europe and the USA is mainly used for bleaching vegetable oils in Russia. At the same time, more than 600 million tons of clay raw materials are located on the territory of Russia, on the basis of which it is possible to obtain promising adsorbents...

"The most interesting in this regard was the bleaching earth of the bergmeal of the Russia's largest Zikeevskoye field in the Kaluga region. In two years we solved the problem by starting with a market study and finishing with a ready-made technology for the production of a new sorption material. The sorption efficiency is 94,5%, while the indicator of one of the highest quality foreign products from Germany – is 93,3%", – say Vlada and Tatyana.

© пресс-служба ТПУ
"This project may be implemented by one of the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship students, and we will continue our studies at ITMO's master's program in St. Petersburg: we entered the direction of Infochemistry", – tells Tatyana Serykh.

Sell it yourself

"Investors in Polytech believe: over the past year they have invested about 50 million rubles in student projects", – emphasizes Aleksander Osadchenko.

A pool of investors has formed, ranging from individuals (both Tomsk and "federal") and ending with development institutions such as the Fund for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises or Internet Initiatives Development Fund. “I get calls every week: "Are there interesting projects to invest in?". They understand that the most promising ideas are in the university, and we are building a system when these ideas are brought to a real startup", – tells Osadchenko.

© РИА Томск. Павел Стефанский
"There are 1500 freshmen at Tomsk Polytechnic University, each of them we consider as a potential entrepreneur and we will involve everyone in our orbit", – says Aleksander Osadchenko.
The first stage of involvement in the "entrepreneurial orbit" – is beautiful and interesting events: "Entrepreneurs' cafe", business quests and so on. The second – is about generating business ideas, when students are encouraged to find their own niche or create a new one through different formats. The next series of activities – is team building, flexible and quick, and after that – the first interview with an investor, where a person gets feedback about his business model, which is not always pleasant.

"At the next stages, we help make the startup more mundane, with the elaboration of nuances: financial, tax, production. We give classical tools: writing a business plan, analyzing markets, forecasting demand. And we also force them to go and sell it with their own hands. First, after an entrepreneur sees a real client, the business concept often changes.

Secondly, if the first sales arise, a person experiences a real thrill – from the fact that he created something that would not exist without him, which is the fruit of his intellect and labor. After that, we add a few "cosmetic" touches to the project in terms of packaging, product presentation – and we are waiting for the defense "Startup as a diploma", which is immediately followed by an investment session", – says Aleksander Osadchenko.

© сайт ТПУ
All TPU sophomores are taught the course "Entrepreneurship". Each student – a physicist, chemist, electric power engineer, etc. – has the opportunity to defend his own startup as a diploma. In the past academic year, this "option" was chosen by about 60 people.
"We also have a system of services for the development of student entrepreneurship – "B-51" (located on Belinsky, 51). This is the university "Boiling Point" with all its new and rather original formats. This is the Center for Youth Innovative Creativity FabLab, where you can delineate something for yourself, make a prototype of the product.

This is the Customer development laboratory, where specially trained people will help with sales. This year we are launching a digital marketing laboratory, where there will be such cool things as testing a product using an electroencephalograph, which measures a person's cognitive reactions to any content. Finally, "B-51" – is also mentoring support for startups from existing entrepreneurs", – says Osadchenko.

The funnel is roughly the following: during the academic year, the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship covers about 5 thousand people; by the new year, about 100 startups of different quality are born. Almost 50 remain at the exit, for which, according to Osadchenko, one is not ashamed. And about 10 of them can actually surge forward.

Wednesday did not oppress

One of the successful startups of the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship graduates – is the digital platform (marketplace for business) Supl.biz. The company – is one of the drivers for the development of end-to-end digital technologies (AI and new production technologies) in Tomsk. The platform aggregates a large amount of data, now it has more than 700 thousand orders for a total of $2,2 billion.

And it was born in 2013, when the co-founder of the project Dmitry Prokopyev studied at the Institute of International Management (the predecessor of the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship).

© предоставлено Дмитрием Прокопьевым
"Entrepreneurial thinking – is the ability to aggregate various information and turn it into value for the world, create a new entity. Sitting at home with a pen and a notebook, it is very difficult to come up with a good idea for a business", – believes Dmitry Prokopyev.
"I entered the evening department – I wanted to gain entrepreneurial skills. During my studies, we came up with several different startups and discussed the idea with my partner at Supl.biz. The training helped me understand what a good manager is, how to assemble a team, how to manage it effectively, how to attract investments The company managed to get a grant from the Fund for Assistance to Small Innovative Enterprises, which allowed it to start growing, we passed acceleration of Internet Initiatives Development Fund.

And it is extremely important that we got into the right environment, met people (from among teachers and mentors) who already had a successful business, and, in principle, all classmates were eager to create something of their own. The environment is super important, especially at a young age, when you have no experience", – says Dmitry.

Currently, he is involved in the strategic development of the company, and considers the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship as his main place of work – he returned to alma mater after receiving his PhD at Polytechnic University of Milan and became the Deputy Director for Development at the School of Engineering Entrepreneurship. Prokopiev smiles: "I really like our university", and explains:

"As a community expert, I myself learn a lot from this environment. I believe that our school – is one of the strongest in Tomsk, that works with technological entrepreneurship, we are well represented in Russia and work with top experts".

Projects at the school are also trying to be done in a trend – and in the near future agrotech, medical tech, everything related to robotization, AI, education and overcoming the consequences of COVID-19 will clearly grow. Aleksander Osadchenko adds:

"We are training a kind of engineering special forces: these are, on the one hand, engineers with deep basic knowledge of physics, chemistry, mathematics. On the other hand, people with an entrepreneurial mindset, who have a talent for predicting the future and achieving the implementation of their ideas faster. A classic engineer often does everything according to the technical task. An engineer-entrepreneur writes this technical task himself".

видео предоставлено ТПУ
TPU School of Engineering Entrepreneurship

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