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Can students in technology entrepreneurship courses help foster start‐ups by the unemployed?

Todd A. Watkins (Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA)
M. Jean Russo (Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA)
John B. Ochs (Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA)

Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development

ISSN: 1462-6004

Article publication date: 16 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to evaluate Lehigh University's demonstration program integrating technology entrepreneurship courses with state and federal employment and economic development agencies. The article aims to detail program goals, activities, resources and structure.


The demonstration involved three stages over 30‐months in the context of Lehigh's Integrated Product Development Program. IPD engages students and faculty from business, engineering and design arts. Multidisciplinary student teams worked with unemployed clients with entrepreneurial new product ideas. The authors report results of several surveys and lessons learned from a comprehensive assessment process.


One year after participating, compared to a control group of non‐participants, clients with student teams had made statistically significantly more progress in launching businesses and generated more economic activity. Family support and market knowledge were the strongest predictors of entrepreneurial progress.

Research limitations/implications

Sample size is small and follow‐up timeframe only one year post‐participation. Larger controlled studies over longer periods would be valuable.

Practical implications

Findings suggest both students and unemployed early‐phase entrepreneurs gain from such academic collaboration. Resources were substantial in the context of curriculum. Partnerships with economic development agencies were instrumental.


Despite a large literature on the value of multidisciplinary and project‐based experiential learning, there is little empirical evidence about the extent of commercial benefits to client companies, particularly early phase entrants. Specifically lacking is evidence on the utility to start‐up entrepreneurs of working with student teams. This paper begins to fill that assessment gap.



Watkins, T.A., Jean Russo, M. and Ochs, J.B. (2008), "Can students in technology entrepreneurship courses help foster start‐ups by the unemployed?", Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 348-364.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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