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Division of General Engineering

ENGM 4950 – Capstone Project

The Engineering Management Capstone Project is a three credit-hour capstone project course for engineering students who are completing the Engineering Management minor.  Over the semester, teams of three students will be paired up with faculty members and technology entrepreneurs with innovation concepts they are interested in commercializing. The teams will work with them through the thinking, analysis, and planning processes needed to turn their concept into an innovation strategy that then could be executed on.  

(For an overview of all the types of Engineering Management projects we offer and to learn how they work, see For Prospective Project Sponsors.)

Offered Spring Semester

Objectives of the Capstone Project

To “walk with you” through the process of designing the business that would be needed to realize the commercial potential of your innovation:

  • What’s the market, how large, how receptive, what are the best segments to attack, what are the adoption triggers and barriers?
  • How should the innovation be commercialized (start-up company, licensing or sale of the IP, partnering, etc.)?
  • What form should the business host take (processes, skill sets, organization of work, governance, etc.)?
  • What ecosystem is needed to support the business (supply chain, channels, partners, etc.)?
  • What is the entity’s source of differentiation and how will it protect and sustain it?
  • What’s the road map for going to market (product line, pricing, market communication, channels, etc.)?
  • What’s the business model – how will it capture profit?
  • What are the capital requirements (whom to approach, the “ask”, deal structure, terms, etc.)
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Contents of the Innovation Strategy

The formulation of the innovation strategy follows a systematic, holistic methodology, the Accelerated Radical Innovation (ARI) model. ARI is an extension of the widely used Stage-Gate model, applied to early-stage radical and/or discontinuous innovation. Adherence to the ARI model ensures that all factors relevant to the ultimate success of the innovation are identified, considered in the appropriate sequence, and addressed. As a starting point for considering what you’d like the team to focus on, you may find it helpful to refer to the generic outline of the innovation strategy that every team will follow. You can then “cut to fit” this outline to your particular priorities. The innovation strategy consists of three parts:

Part 1: Situation/Opportunity Analysis

The opportunity analysis proceeds along four parallel tracks:

  • Assessment of the organizational host of the innovation. What are its capabilities, objectives, strengths, and limitations?
  • Market/societal assessment. What crisis (opportunity or threat) will drive the innovation forward? What is the market, how big is it, and what are the triggers and barriers to adoption? What is the market’s price point?
  • Technological/scientific challenges. What are the market’s requirements for the innovation? What is the status of the innovation relative to those requirements? What alternative technologies address these requirements? What is the relevant prior art (patented and non-patented)? What are the key development challenges going forward?
  • Innovation ecosystem challenges. Who are the key competitors; what are their capabilities and intentions? Who are the key stakeholders in the innovation? What is the status of the supply chain for the innovation? What complementary and supporting technologies are required?

Part 2: Business Intelligence

What factors emerge as most critical to the success of the innovation? As a major aspect of the course, the team will develop and execute a business intelligence study, including literature review, interviews with stakeholders and sources of relevant knowledge, surveys, and observations, to shed light on these factors and determine the strategic implications for the future course of the innovation. The business intelligence study continues throughout the remainder of the project.

Part 3: Innovation Strategy

The innovation strategy maps potential routes forward for the innovation, based on the specific challenges identified in the situation/opportunity analysis and the results of the business intelligence study. The strategy may include:

Marketing Strategy

  • Innovation Vision. What is the value proposition for adopters of the innovation (qualitative and quantitative)?
  • Product Market Scope and Strategy. What markets will the innovator enter, with what mix of products. In what time frame will the rollout occur?
  • Buying Influence Map. Who are the key buying influences in this space, how do you reach them, and what to you need to get across to them?
  • Pricing Strategy. Formulate a pricing strategy based on the market price points revealed in the Analysis phase.
  • Marketing Communications Plan. What marketing communication tools and media do you recommend over the early life cycle of the enterprise?

Technical/Scientific Strategy

  • Architecture of the Innovation. What is the functional and physical architecture of the innovation system?
  • Analysis of Available Approaches. Are there off-the-shelf approaches to major elements of the system that might reduce time, cost, and risk in system development? What are their relative merits, and which approaches should be used?
  • Intellectual Property Strategy. Recommendations on patenting, copyright protection, in- and out-licensing terms, etc.

Innovation Ecosystem Strategy

  • Capabilities Sought? What complementary capabilities are needed to commercialize the innovation?
  • Prospective Partner Assessment. Who would make good partners? What are their capabilities, interests, and strategic posture?
  • Collaboration Strategy. What collaborative arrangements should you develop to bring these collaborations about?

Business/Organizational Strategy

  • Characteristics of the Post-Launch Enterprise. What should this enterprise look like? Is there a potential host company for this innovation already out there?
  • Projected Role of the Current Innovation Team. What roles should members of the current team play, given their competencies and aspirations?
  • Structure of the Enterprise. What is the most appropriate legal form of organization? Who should be on the board of directors and/or advisors? How should the work of the enterprise be organized and managed?

Commercialization and Exit Strategy

  • Commercialization Plan. What commercialization strategy will you use to get to the launch of the enterprise (e.g., internal development, partnering, licensing)?
  • Project Management Plan. What key milestones must be hit to achieve the launch of the enterprise?
  • Budget. What costs must be planned for in completing commercialization?

Business Case

  • Business Scenarios. Develop two alternative scenarios for how this business might unfold.
  • Profit Model. Create a pro forma financial statement for each scenario. Identify the assumptions behind your model.
  • Capital Requirements. What sources of capital should you pursue? How much capital will you require?
  • Risk Analysis. Assess the risks involved in the two proposed scenarios? How will you address them?
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Identifying and Defining an Innovation Strategy Project

In this section, we explain what characteristics make for a good project, identify examples of some recently completed projects, provide a project description template, and explain how to get started.

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 What makes a good candidate for an Innovation Strategy project?

Since the student team projects do not involve the development of technology itself, we are looking for technical concepts that are for the most part developed – to the proof of concept stage or beyond, but where the business thinking (business models, business plans, marketing strategies) is at an early stage. The teams’ job is to help the innovator develop a commercialization strategy that will move the concept to the point of commercial launch, sale or license to an acquirer, or presentation to a new venture investor.

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 Examples of previously completed innovation strategy projects

To stimulate your thinking, this sample of innovation strategy projects over the past three years addresses some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity:

  • Cancer treatment: Safe low-cost, high-efficacy hyperthermia-based cancer treatment (Parmenides, Inc.)
  • Environmental remediation: Environmental Impact Assessment tool for coal combustion and industrial waste streams (Vanderbilt University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering)
  • Medical diagnostics: Rapid detection of sepsis and blood-borne pathogens (Sepsis, Inc.)
  • Microprocessor design: Radiation effects simulator for microchip design (Vanderbilt Institute for Space and Defense Electronics)
  • Aging-in-Place: Home Health Monitoring and Support System for Senior Independent Living.
  • AIDS treatment: Novel antiviral therapeutic approach targeting HIV-infected persons (Jericho Sciences, Inc.)
  • Drug development: Computer mapping algorithm to accelerated high-throughput screening of drug candidate molecules (Meiler Lab, Vanderbilt Department of Chemistry)
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Capstone Engineering Management Project Description Template

Sponsor Background

Sponsoring Organization
Logo (if available)
Background Summary (history, key accomplishments, etc.)

Project Title
(Provide a brief descriptive title that includes the technology and its application.)

Point of Contact
Affiliation (Department or company):
Web: (home page or personal profile)

Executive Sponsor
Name and title of Point of Contact’s superior

Project Description

(Discuss the general problem being addressed. How has it been addressed to date? What are the limitations or shortcomings of current approaches? Why is this a significant issue that merits a novel approach? Feel free to provide an attachment or link to further background discussion.)

Technical Approach
(Describe your approach to the problem. What is novel about it? Why do you believe it is promising? What is the current status of your innovation, e.g., proof of concept, working prototype, pilot run with earlier users, etc.? Feel free to provide an attachment or link or to further technical detail that might help the reader get a better grasp of the approach.)

Ultimate Vision for the Innovation
(Describe how and where you envision your innovation ultimately being deployed and its ultimate potential impact (how it will “change the world”).)

Key Challenges
(Describe the key commercialization challenges facing the innovation, e.g., manufacturability, scalability, reliability, cost, application opportunities, market size/readiness, etc.)

Capstone Project Objectives/Deliverables
(Of these challenges, which do you want the team to address, e.g., system design or integration, e.g., application analysis, marketing strategy, operations strategy, business model, business plan, organizational design for the ultimate host for the innovation, commercialization strategy.)

Resources Available to the Team
(Describe whom the team will interact with – e.g., industrial community partners, academic colleagues, graduate students or graduates; facilities, laboratories, bodies of literature, etc.)

Preferred Student Team Qualifications
(What sort of academic training or experience would you like to see represented on the team, e.g., specific academic major, background in business or finance? We will try to ensure that the team will have representation in these areas.)

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Getting Started on Your Project Proposal

Go to "How Projects Work - Getting Started." Please be sure to adhere to the proposal deadlines shown so you don't miss out on a semester.

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