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Submitted by on April 25, 2012

Crowdfunding–a means by which individuals can invest in a new product with the click of a mouse–has earned an important role in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses raise capital. But crowdfunding websites can also provide excellent learning experiences for students. Dr. Douglas Lyon, professor of computer engineering, is now incorporating the principles into the computer engineering curriculum.

Websites like Kickstarter create visibility and funding possibilities for inventors while serving as educational platforms for students, says Dr. Lyon. Inventors are able to create campaigns for their products through various crowdfunding websites. He or she then creates perks corresponding to each level of funding, thus persuading the crowdfunding community to invest in the product.

One of the lessons students can take away from crowdfunding is the ability for students to “fail fast.” Although this may seem like a negative, it teaches students not to spend time on a product that is not going to work. Using free, crowdfunding mediums, student entrepreneurs have the ability to see what will and will not be profitable in the market place.

Dr. Lyon and Pawel Krepsztul M.S.’05 developed a robotic camera featuring automatic tracking for small, portable devices such as the iPhone. After gathering information from the crowdfunding community and their interest in the product, students are able to quantify the demand for the product. The quantifiable evidence is what proves the product’s success and can be used as justification in writing business plans. Writing a real-life business plan provides students with a hands-on learning experience, applicable to their future careers. After the business plan is complete, students are able to use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to market their products to consumers.

In addition to providing an excellent learning experience, crowdfunding makes entrepreneurship and innovation even more accessible. Dr. Lyon stated that crowdfunding, “lowers the barrier to entrepreneurship, a great creator of wealth.” He continued, “It’s not just about making money, it’s about changing the future.”

Dr. Lyon was enthusiastic about the use of crowdfunding inside and outside the classroom. “I’ve learned a way to make engineering entrepreneurship exciting,” he said.  “The ability to innovate is our country’s only sustainable competitive advantage.”

For more information about the crowdfunding project please visit:

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