July 11, 2012

Calculators, graphing paper and measuring tape are fading stereotypes of engineers. Rather, more engineers and engineering students are becoming entrepreneurs and charting their own professional course.

Dan Hayes, assistant professor of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, is helping to engender an entrepreneurial spirit among these engineering students at LSU. Hayes has developed a 12-credit certificate program that exposes students to the fundamental techniques of business processes and guides them through creating and pitching a business plan.

For Christian Lohrey, biological engineering graduate student, it was Hayes’ business plan class that helped strengthen his entrepreneurial endeavors. Lohrey took Engineering Entrepreneurism in Fall 2011 and used the class to develop his business plan for an algae business that produces cattle feed from waste water.

Fast-forward to today, and Lohrey utilizes the experience he gained in Hayes’ class to develop PhycoGenesis. According to its website, PhycoGenesis is an algae technology company focused on sustainability that Lohrey started with fellow LSU biological engineering student Nick Lemoine. The company’s goal is to produce high quality organic Spirulina used in feed and food applications.

“The class helped me to pitch a business idea to people who may or may not be interested in your business plan,” Lohrey said.

Lohrey and Lemoine are currently looking for additional funding to buy more land in Louisiana and expand the company’s reach. 

“As engineers, we’re naturally looking to improve things and always trying to achieve cost savings,” Lohrey said. “Engineering and entrepreneurship go hand in hand.”

The entrepreneurship program also ensures students will understand the market forces that drive design – seeing their research through an industry lens and business-based criteria for success.

“I recently started a business with research I conducted in high school,” said Sharis Steib, biological engineering undergraduate student. “Throughout the whole start-up process thus far, I realized that I was pursuing this without any guidance. Many people try to offer advice, but it is hard discerning who has good intentions and who does not. I decided to participate in this certificate program because any help is beneficial, especially if it is coming from LSU professors that I know and trust.” 

“Dr. Hayes’ classes makes you point out market weaknesses and what makes a good product,” Lohrey said.

Looking at her past internship, Steib agrees.

“While interning at Abbott Vascular last summer, I was exposed to many aspects of medical devices and the business behind it,” Steib said. “I would say I have gained insight on how to develop a product that is actually feasible and has the potential to be profitable and what steps need to be taken to get that product to market.”

Hayes believes that engineers can be successful entrepreneurs because they approach ideas and develop new technologies from a technical angle

“Being an engineer has immeasurably helped me to be a better entrepreneur,” Steib said. “Engineering teaches you how to think practically. In my entrepreneur endeavors, there have been many instances where unpredictable situations arise, however my ability to think through them without faltering can be contributed to my engineering mindset.”

Lohrey’s advice for other engineers looking to delve into entrepreneurship, “It must be something you’re passionate about. While you’re in school, take advantages of resources that you couldn’t get on your own.”

“If you want to be an entrepreneur, you do not have to be the smartest or most creative person, but you do have to be practical, ambitious and persistent,” Steib said. “This certificate program will expose you to facets of entrepreneurship that you have probably never considered. If you have passion for learning and innovation within engineering, this program will definitely be beneficial for you.” 

“I’m excited to expand the certificate program to other engineering disciplines and even STEM disciplines,” Hayes said.  

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For more information, contact Cassie Arceneaux, College of Engineering, carcen6@lsu.edu or (225) 578-0092.



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