Studying new products helps students develop their own
INNOVATIVE APPROACH: Brendan McNally, associate director, Business Entrepreneurship & Organizations program at Brown University, said that as time went on, Brown began to take over more of the responsibility for the funding of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, creating a less than “ideal” situation.
Having established a career as a consultant for Fleet Bank, Brendan McNally was hired in 2009 for his knowledge and contacts in the business community as the first director of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Until closed earlier this year, it was a collaborative effort supported primarily by Brown University, as well as the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, the R.I. Science and Technology Advisory Council and the Slater Technology Fund.
RI-CIE provided program support services, networking, resources and physical space to nurture innovative and high-growth business ventures. McNally now works for the school’s Business Entrepreneurship & Organizations program as its associate director.
PBN: You were the director of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. What is the status of that group since it vacated Davol Square?
McNALLY: When Brown started RI-CIE, we wanted a statewide, community-wide organization, a place for people to come and share their experiences. We were located at One Davol Square in Providence’s “Knowledge District,” an excellent location that is still home to several startups that we were proud to help. Brown University took the lead with the center and many of its students enjoyed its benefits.
As time went on, Brown began to take over more of the responsibility as a necessity because of funding; other sources contributed less than what was ideal for us. Then this past summer the EDC became understandably preoccupied with its own issues, such as 38 Studios.
The university decided to change direction a little and began to concentrate more on its Business Entrepreneurship & Organizations program, known around campus as the BEO. When I was named as its associate director I was very happy, and I am looking forward to the new opportunity. As for RI-CIE, Brown remains willing to be involved if there is more interest.
PBN: Would you say that Brown has given up on RI-CIE?
McNALLY: No, not at all. It had many strong points, such as our lunch-time series, work sessions and the ability to bring many organizations together, even if it was just to use our offices to hold an event. The school stands behind these activities and will be happy to talk with anyone to look at future possibilities, it just couldn’t sustain the project on its finances solely.
PBN: What is the Business Entrepreneurship & Organizations program?
McNALLY: First, it is not a new area of study. It used to be known as the Commerce, Organizations and Entrepreneurship program. It is an undergraduate major, or concentration as we call it, that studies commercial activity based on several factors such as engineering, economics and sociology.
In a way it is similar to RI-CIE because it studies new entrepreneurial ventures, examining how they grow, form, organize and function with other new ventures.
PBN: Is it accomplished differently than the methods used by the center?
McNALLY: The BEO requires a multidisciplinary base, where students use their expertise in one of the three disciplinary approaches, with special emphasis on critical reasoning and quantitative research methods.
PBN: What do you consider to be the three approaches?
McNALLY: Students are required to study the economics of business, organization studies and finally entrepreneurship and technology management. Each of these is critical in understanding what it takes from start to finish, from the idea to the finished product.
PBN: Is it a straight business curriculum?
McNALLY: Not really, and that’s what makes it a little more different and a little more interesting. Students have to take courses in economics, engineering, sociology, math and statistics. This approach we believe gives students a stronger and broader foundation and strengthens their background.
PBN: And what of business courses?
McNALLY: First, some of these classes are very important, such as economics, obviously, but the students will all be taught these basics. As a student, for example, starts to develop a project, it is there where we will emphasize things such as critical reasoning; that could apply to the design of a product, to its cost. It will also require a large amount of research. It will be up to the students to determine what is needed, which gives them a certain amount of flexibility as well as independence, while still requiring a strong measure of responsibility.
PBN: Will students actually develop their own products?
McNALLY: Yes. In their senior year, students will work in groups to put a lot of these pieces together by creating their own projects, called capstone projects, not just in theory but from start to finish. If we are talking about a physical product then it will have to be designed, engineered and developed. It will also have to be well-planned, marketed and proven to be economically sound. That’s why the school has taken the multidisciplinary approach for the program. •
POSITION: Associate director, Business Entrepreneurship & Organizations Program at Brown University
BACKGROUND: Prior to being named associate director, McNally served as director of the Rhode Island Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship from 2009 to 2012. He has also worked as a special assistant to the executive vice president for planning in Brown University’s Office of the President from 2004 to 2009. From 2000 to 2004 he worked as a project manager and consultant for corporate strategy & development at Fleet Bank.
EDUCATION: B.A. in government/env. studies, 1984, Bowdoin College; MBA in organization, University of Rochester Graduate School of Business Administration, 1998