SCET is Celebrating 15 Years with Ikhlaq Sidhu

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SCET Faculty Director and Chief Scientist, Ikhlaq Sidhu, has created a new model for the academic innovation center that embraces innovation in both academia and industry. This model has led to new ways of teaching and practicing technology innovation for university students and professionals that includes frequent interaction between academia and industry, learning of entrepreneurial mindsets and behaviors, advanced technical projects, and connections with diverse people all over the world.

The Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (SCET) at the University of California, Berkeley is excited to commemorate fifteen years of being led by Ikhlaq Sidhu to empower innovators at Berkeley. SCET started in 2005 by teaching one project-based technology entrepreneurship course using traditional case study-based pedagogy and evolved to develop a novel, effective model for teaching that combines technical depth with entrepreneurship and innovation culture. Run by an outstanding team, the Center today has scaled to teach the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship pedagogy to more than 2,000 students per year, partner with 17 global academic institutions, offer leading executive programs to technical leaders in Silicon Valley and around the world on behalf of the College of Engineering, conduct research, and accelerate innovation through its X-Labs.

Over the years, SCET has helped thousands of students and professionals learn how to turn their ideas into new venture projects, develop new mindsets applicable across multiple disciplines, understand entrepreneurial behavior, and learn the best approaches for guiding innovation projects towards successful outcomes using the innovation engineering methodology.

Hybrid Industry and Academic Faculty

SCET was formed in 2005 by the Berkeley College of Engineering and faculty in the Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research. The mission was “to equip engineers and scientists with the skills to innovate, productize, and commercialize technology in the global economy.” The SCET founders included Dean A. Richard Newton, and Profs. Jon Burgstone, Ilan Adler, Lee Schruben, Phil Kaminsky and others who all supported the vision of engineers and scientists being able to learn entrepreneurial skills and apply what they learn by increasing the connections between academic and industry practice.

Dean A. Richard Newton and former Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair David Dornfeld led the recruitment of Dr. Ikhlaq Sidhu from the University of Illinois as an academic with an impactful industry background that included heading advanced development at the 3Com corporation where he was awarded 61 patents and received the prestigious “Inventor of the Year” award for work in networking and communications.

“When I was Dean of the College of Engineering at Berkeley, my mission was to broaden engineering to include technology, entrepreneurship, and design. With Ikhlaq leading SCET, we have been able to literally reinvent engineering instruction to bring the world’s real-life challenges and timely opportunities directly into the classroom,” says Shankar Sastry, Chair, SCET Faculty Council, and former dean of the College of Engineering.

Recruiting Ikhlaq was part of a trend that had already started in leading universities to bridge academics with industry and society to develop use-inspired research and deliver applied teaching to students. For the Center, this meant the inclusion of industry lecturers who could help students by sharing their perspective on the latest for technology firms, as well as bring timely, cutting-edge challenges into the classroom. SCET has continued to close the gap between entrepreneurs, executives, professionals and Berkeley students by recruiting a diverse team of industry fellows, board members, and faculty.

“Thanks to Ikhlaq’s transformative approach to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation, UC Berkeley has expanded its role within the vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area,” says Tsu-Jae Liu, Dean, College of Engineering. “Leveraging his strong ties to industry, the Sutardja Center has been able not only to develop customized programs for executives and technical professionals but also to give Berkeley students more opportunities to work directly with companies on timely and impactful innovation projects.”

Are entrepreneurs born or made?

Besides blurring the line between academia and industry, Ikhlaq also worked to change the way that entrepreneurship is taught on university campuses. As he elaborated on the New Zealand TV show Breakfast in 2016, Ikhlaq realized that there was a fundamental flaw in the way entrepreneurship programs are taught: they are far too focused on business models, making a plan, and the logical part of creating a business, when the psychological elements of being an entrepreneur, such as behavior and mindset, are just as important.

To correct this, Ikhlaq Sidhu and SCET managing director, Ken Singer, formalized this idea into a new pedagogy called the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMoE). The BMoE focus is to develop entrepreneurial behaviors and mindsets through exercises, lectures, and interactions with real-life innovators and entrepreneurs. While this kind of training has been shown to be beneficial for entrepreneurs to increase their likelihood of successfully starting new ventures, most students in SCET classes do not end up creating venture-backed businesses. But because the BMoE curriculum helps students develop skills in areas such as teamwork, project execution, design thinking, marketing, and technology, they are able to apply what they learn to innovate and be more effective with jobs in industry as well.

“As a former entrepreneur and a current venture capitalist, it’s obvious to me that the most essential ingredients for success are teamwork, trust, curiosity, acceptance of failure, and a constant drive to iterate.” says In Sik Rhee, Partner at Vertex Ventures and SCET advisory board member. “None of those factors are steeped in any particular syntax or curriculum. All have to do with a certain psychological strength and confidence in a unified team. Ikhlaq and the SCET have embraced these core principles and created a great method to enable students to focus on the mindset of entrepreneurship.”

So, while many entrepreneurship programs were already addressing infrastructure and tactics, Ikhlaq’s work to include mindset and behaviors in BMoE into engineering education was something completely new and a significant contribution to entrepreneurship pedagogy. In 2018, Ikhlaq was awarded the Major Education Innovation Award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Educational Activities Board (EAB) for his contributions in entrepreneurship pedagogy and innovative teaching methods.

Mindsets and psychological constructs for the Berkeley Innovation Index

Developing next generation courses with the innovation collider

To help students develop entrepreneurial mindsets and behavior and gain practice with creating new ventures, Ikhlaq and Ken Singer developed courses around the concept of the innovation collider. The idea was that by bringing together academics, industry professionals, students, and others with different perspectives, that there would be more opportunity for unique innovation projects.

The Innovation Collider: recruit diverse participants, teach them about mindset and behavior, let them learn through practice and experience, and the result will be unique innovation projects.

From this concept came the development of SCET’s core courses, including the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, where students create a venture project in five days, the A. Richard Newton Lecture Series, which recruits the world’s leading innovators to speak about their story in a fireside chat, and Challenge Labs, semester-long courses where students create a venture project and prototype based on an emerging technology area such as artificial intelligence or blockchain.

Key to the idea of the innovation collider was to bring diverse participants to Berkeley to enable them to interact with students. SCET launched the Global Venture Lab in 2008 in order to recruit academics, entrepreneurs, and others from around the world who wanted to interact with SCET, Berkeley, and the Bay Area’s rich innovation ecosystem. SCET currently has 17 global partners with which to exchange information, pedagogy, and ideas, and lively student exchange programs such as Startup Semester and LeBridge Fellows.

Adding professionals to the innovation collider

In 2011, as part of reinforcing the innovation collider model, Ikhlaq realized that the Silicon Valley high-tech community would benefit from the teaching model being developed in the Center. He used the lens of his direct experience in industry to translate business cases, innovation frameworks, and speakers into a new program called the Engineering Leadership Professional Program (ELPP). ELPP prepares technical leaders for higher responsibility within their firms in a 4 1/2 month, part-time format.

Charlie Giancarlo CEO Pure Storage, former EVP and Chief Technology & Development Officer, Cisco Systems, and SCET board member was one of the first collaborators of ELPP. In Charlie’s words, “It has been a pleasure to have been associated with Ikhlaq in the initial development and spectacular growth of the ELPP program. Ikhlaq combines the rare combination of business experience and pedagogical skills to translate concepts using industry practice and academic perspectives. This program fills an incredibly important need in the development of rising technical leaders in Silicon Valley.” 

ELPP was groundbreaking in that it was the first executive program offered by the College of Engineering. And over the last decade, it has been attended by over 700 executive students from innovative firms including Google, Samsung, Yahoo, Verizon, Cisco, VMware and many others.    

“ELPP and Prof. Ikhlaq are synonymous and inseparable. The numerous case studies led by Ikhlaq Sidhu, especially on innovation, were very engaging and insightful. I always looked forward to the ELPP sessions, and I have personally enjoyed them. Cheers to Ikhlaq for leading this program,” Venkat Sundaranatha, a graduate of the program and leading Silicon Valley tech industry professional.

Adding data science to the innovation collider

In 2017, Ikhlaq wanted to add more technical components into the Center’s curriculum and developed a new course, called Data-X (Applied Data Science with Venture Applications). His idea for the course was to teach students the most relevant data analysis skills that they could easily apply in industry. To do this, he would develop a curriculum that brought together the most popular algorithms and mathematics, software tools, and an innovation project to help students learn how to execute.

“My guiding principle for developing Data-X was to create a course that I would personally want to take. We want to give students the most useful approaches that are used in industry today and let them practice by creating a truly innovative project,” said Ikhlaq about the creation of Data-X.

The course quickly became very popular with undergraduate and masters students, enrolls more than 150 students each semester, and recently began publishing its educational materials online for anyone in the world to utilize.

“By providing project-based courses, Ikhlaq has helped us improve the experience for IEOR students, enabling them to apply their technical training to timely innovation projects,” says Alper Atamturk, Professor and Chair, Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research.

With the success of the Data-X course, Ikhlaq went on to found the Data X-Lab with the idea that he could bring together industry and students around the topic of data, and have a venue for researching mindsets and behaviors. In addition to organizing the Data-X course for Berkeley students each semester, the Data X-Lab’s research has led to the development of tools such as the Berkeley Innovation Index, which helps quantify individual’s mindsets and behaviors to help them understand where they can improve themselves.

The X-Lab: SCET’s academic innovation lab 

In the earlier years of SCET, the challenge lab courses had different topics each semester in order to keep relevant with innovation trends. While this allowed students to practice building venture projects with new cutting-edge technologies, it did not allow SCET to invest in technology opportunity areas or build a technically-oriented curriculum in (e.g. blockchain) year after year. 

Ikhlaq and his industry advisory board wondered if there was a way to sustain technology innovation projects over a longer period of time. Meanwhile, the success of Data-X illuminated a path towards a new set of focused innovation labs or X-Labs. Through the development of an X-Lab, SCET could develop domain expertise in certain technology topic areas to better support student innovation. The first three X-Labs were developed to focus in the areas of data, blockchain, and meat alternatives.  

One popular topic which garnered interest from SCET’s professional students and board was new ventures in the meat alternatives space. To test developing technology in this space, SCET held a short course called the “Plant-Based Seafood Collider” in 2017. In the class, students successfully created plant-based seafood prototypes to demonstrate that convincing alternatives could be created. The top team, Terramino Foods, continued by developing a new startup venture, Prime Roots, which now has more than $20 million in venture funding. To teach this course, Ikhlaq and SCET recruited Ricardo San Martin, an entrepreneur and professor from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, who was connected to SCET through the Global Venture Lab. While meat alternatives were a new domain for Ricardo, his background with plant science, chemical engineering, and entrepreneurship equipped him to be the director of a new lab, the Berkeley Alt: Meat Lab, which now offers two courses per year, and conducts research with a team of more than 20 student researchers.

Testing this idea of identifying emerging technology trends that could be developed into X-Labs, Ikhlaq and SCET also kicked off one of the earliest blockchain education efforts on campus with a short course that the Center called a “Collider” on blockchain in early 2016. This momentum continued on campus and at SCET through numerous blockchain-themed Challenge Lab courses and the new Berkeley Blockchain Xcelerator, a startup accelerator launched in early 2019 in partnership with the student club Blockchain at Berkeley and the Haas School of Business Blockchain Initiative. As blockchain adoption continues, Ikhlaq and SCET are continuing to innovate as to how to best educate the workforce of the future in this key, emerging technology area, as demonstrated by a new “innovation engineering” platform course taking place in Spring 2021, titled “Building with Blockchain for Web 3.0.” 

Innovation Engineering

One of Ikhlaq’s most recent contributions to the development of entrepreneurship pedagogy is the addition of the methodology of Innovation Engineering, about which he wrote a book in 2019. Frustrated with the fact that most innovation projects fail, Ikhlaq was inspired by Dave Kelly who developed the IDEO process that made design projects become more predictable and successful. Ikhlaq wondered if he could develop a similar methodology for innovation, that increased the likelihood for successful projects.

Besides publishing a book on the topic, Ikhlaq developed 12 principles of innovation engineering to help guide students through innovation projects. In spring 2020, he developed a new innovation engineering course and partnered with GSM Association, an industry organization that represents the interests of more than 750 mobile network operators worldwide, to help students learn the methodology by creating 5G and artificial intelligence innovation projects. Innovation engineering has continued to be implemented in Spring 2021 as Innovation-X: Future of Industry Startup Lab and Building with Blockchain for Web 3.0, which will guide students through an innovation project, help them learn the innovation engineering methodology.

SCET Today and What’s Next

The steps in this 15-year journey have included the development of the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship and its influence on advanced project courses and labs, and the development of Innovation Engineering, a new methodology for approaching idea execution.

“We endowed the Center because we could see the impact that SCET’s programs were having on students’ self-confidence, attitudes, and ability to execute on their ideas,” say the Center’s chief benefactors, Pantas and Ting Sutardja. “It has been very rewarding to see the SCET grow under Ikhlaq’s leadership to empower thousands of students at Berkeley and around the world.”

“We have been fortunate to find a successful model to combine technical education with entrepreneurial behaviors in the past 15 years,” says Ikhlaq. “What is next for SCET is to scale and institutionalize what has been developed in this first phase.”

While the original mission mentioned above was “to equip engineers and scientists with the skills to innovate, productize, and commercialize technology in the global economy,” the mission has since changed to “Empower Innovators to Positively Change the World.”

SCET has already been working to equip the next generation of innovators with the skills they need to make positive change on society. For example, industry instructor and venture capitalist Shomit Ghose has been teaching courses to help students integrate data strategy into their startup plans, and do so ethically.  SCET recently certified its A. Richard Newton Series course to join the Berkeley Changemaker initiative, to help students learn about their power to be agents of change. And SCET has partnered with Schoolab to offer its Deplastify the Planet course, which helps students create innovative solutions to the plastic crisis.

“We realized that it’s really important to not only empower our students to have the ability to change the world, as is the goal for most innovators, but also that they be responsible for what they create,” says Ikhlaq. “So, that is why we adjusted our mission to include creating positive change. We believe that student entrepreneurs especially, who have great power to impact society, need to be given training on how to ethically develop their ventures. So moving forward, we will continue to work on helping students find ways to make positive change.”


Also published on Medium.

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