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UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Class Creates Budding Entrepreneurs

Kevin Fructuoso shows off a mock up of his team's product to course instructor Nathan Delson (center) and judge Jeff Spiegelman.

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 19, 2013 -- Kevin Fructuoso didn’t think about being an entrepreneur—until he took the Product Design and Entrepreneurship class taught by mechanical engineering Teaching Professor Nathan Delson. 
During the class, he teamed up with three other students to come up with a product that  helps meet the unique sleep needs of students, who often live in noisy dorms. Students had to identify a market need, design the product, conduct marker research, study interfaces and usability and learn how to use a 3D printer, among other requirements.

The class culminated in a three-hour pitch fest, where students attempted to sell their products to three entrepreneurs and product designers who served as judges, Dec. 12 at the Qualcomm Conference Center in Jacobs Hall. Three teams won $2000 to pursue their product idea and join the Moxie Center, the campus’ undergraduate entrepreneurship incubator.

Usually, a marketing department comes up with concepts for new products and passes on specs to the engineering department, often without realizing the engineering trade-offs involved, Delson explained. But that needs to change. Engineering and marketing need to be closely integrated to keep up with the rapid pace at which technology is evolving today.  “In the class we require students to develop their own product concepts and conduct interviews with potential customers,” Delson said. “The students develop an appreciation for the challenge of developing a product to truly meet customer needs.

Fructuoso’s team was one of the winners. Their presentation started with a sleek video put together by fourth-year mechanical engineering student Daniel Lee. The video featured Fructoso and Lee as well as their teammates Charlotte Lowey and Xian Lee.

“You’re ready for KickStarter,” said Jeff Spiegelman, president and founder of San Diego-based RASIRC who is also a UC San Diego alum and served as one of the judges. He would later award the team one of the three winning spots, congratulating them on the quality of their market research.

The two other judges were Rajan Ramaswamy, president and CTO of Vista-based Novo Engineering and Charles Curbbun, founder of Carlsbad-based DD Studio.

The class covers a wide range of topics, said Lowey, an exchange student who took the course because she was interested in design. And students get to put most of them into practice, she added.

“It gives you the tools and infrastructure from which you can create a start-up,” said Lee.
Fructuoso said the business topics covered set the class apart from other courses taught at the Jacobs School of Engineering. Li said he appreciated all the feedback his team received in the class.

Fructuoso's team presents to the judges.

Their product is Auralarm, which allows users to sleep in noisy environments while still being able to wake up at a scheduled time. The concept is still proprietary and the student team will be working on patent protection and product design for the rest of the academic year. Their target market is students living in noisy dorms, couples on different schedules and residents of noisy cities. Manufacturing costs would run somewhere around $5, while retail price would be $20. Students fabricated a 3D-printed mock-up but still have a lot of work ahead. Next steps include finding an app developer and a computer engineering or electrical engineering student skilled in printed circuit board design.

Students can continue their project as part of a capstone design course Delson said. The director of the Moxie Center, Jay Kunin, was also on hand and encouraged all teams in the class to consider continuing their efforts by joining the center. The Product Design and Entrepreneurship class, MAE154, is supported by a grant from the NCIIA and a gift from the Moxie Foundation. In addition, the students received advice from von Liebig advisers Gioia Messinger and Kai Wenk-Wolff during the course.

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Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering
Phone: 858-822-0899
ipatrin@ucsd.edu