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Sunday, April 14, 2024
The Observer

ESTEEM graduate program turns STEM majors into entrepreneurs

Notre Dame’s ESTEEM graduate program combines several disciplines to formulate a hands-on learning experience for students interested in entrepreneurship.

ESTEEM, founded in 2009 as the University’s first multidisciplinary program, is a collaborative effort between the Mendoza College of Business, the College of Science and the College of Engineering that aims to provide students a STEM background and the skills necessary to translate their experience and knowledge into business ventures.

ESTEEM, otherwise known as the Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters Program, offers an interdisciplinary curriculum that blends business fundamentals with multiple advanced technical courses.

Neil Kane, the director of curriculum and capstone advising for ESTEEM and a World Economic Forum (WEF) Technology Pioneer, believes the program’s unique fusion of interdisciplinary learning is directly in line with Notre Dame’s strong tradition of excellence.

“Our curriculum has the goal of teaching students business principles like founding startups, talking to potential customers, characterizing the size of the market and making sure that there’s actually a segment of the market willing to pay for the product or solution, all the while expanding on their pre-existing STEM experience,” Kane said. “However, what we try to do most significantly is provide experience. There’s nothing quite like actually starting a business … So, we try to create that as best we can by giving students the ability to apply what they’ve learned in a relationship with a corporate sponsor.”

Admissions recruiter Iseli Hernandez found the communication and marketing skills taught through ESTEEM to be invaluable for students interested in consulting or entrepreneurship.

“If you have an idea, you have to be able to sell your idea, you have to present it in a way that’s convincing,” Hernandez said. “We have these events for students to come in and present their ideas for fundraising, to build up things from scratch and present a first prototype, or perhaps attend a trade show where you’ll be able to talk to people in your industry. That sort of support is essential in helping students become familiar with the world of business.”

ESTEEM offers a huge amount of opportunities for students to put their innovation and knowledge into practice, especially through its collaboration with the Innovation, De-Risking and Enterprise Acceleration (IDEA) Center, which provides prospects for networking and pitching alike. One of the foremost opportunities for this exists through the program’s annual McCloskey New Venture Competition, which a new select class specifically interested in forming startups will be heavily involved in.

“We have noticed a significant trend in admitted students wanting to start a company from the ground up,” Ellen Dutton, manager of startup programming, said. “So, ESTEEM will be piloting a new class this year, where students, through a video interview, will pitch their own ideas and what steps they’ll take to realize them. Those selected will form a class of 10 and will be expected to form companies this semester and then fund them the next. The goal is to teach them how to open a company and form an LLC, then to aid them in fundraising and spreading awareness of their product or solution.”

Dutton explains that these students’ participation in the competition will require them to outline a business plan, financial model, presentation and pitch decks.

Participants will be provided mentorship and insight by a variety of angel investors, venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs and other startup experts.

Still, the centerpiece of ESTEEM is its industry-sponsored capstone projects, which fund the scholarships all students in the program receive in accordance with merit and financial need.

Notre Dame’s strong ties with industry leaders facilitate groundbreaking collaborations between firm and student alike that oftentimes can lead to a seamless path into a career even before graduation.

Even for students intending to create startups, working with corporations along the lines of Booz Allen Hamilton and Avanade, with one student reportedly receiving mentoring from the latter’s CTO, can prove immensely valuable. SpaceX and Starlink are also noted to be among this year’s capstone experiences by Dutton, who had recently visited the locations in California with several students.

“A huge portion of our students every year receive full-time employment from their capstone sponsors after graduation,” Kane said. “What we often hear is that many of the large companies sponsoring students do so as a way to identify qualified, driven students that they want in their workplace.”

When asked on what qualities ESTEEM would be looking for in applicants, Hernandez said they seek out people who want to come up with “unique and marketable solutions to important issues.”

“Yet, no matter the technical or scientific credentials of the applicant, we will always need those who are resilient,” Hernandez said. “In the world of startups, in the world of entrepreneurship, you must be willing to fail again and again, only to take that failure and learn from it, to not be defeated by it but to continue boldly forth onto the next step of your vision.”