Direct Instruction: Entrepreneurial Mindset - 3Cs of Innovation (FSE 294)

Direct Instruction: Entrepreneurial Mindset - 3Cs of Innovation (FSE 294)

"Just as Plato's philosopher kings transformed the notion of what a just and intelligent government looks like, entrepreneurial mindset is the means by which engineers are transformed from conventional problem solvers to innovative value creators who deliver solutions which are technically sound and which have improved impact on the communities they serve."

- Kenneth Mulligan, Academic Associate

Case at a glance

Integration goals

This effort went beyond integration, as the goal was developing and delivering an undergraduate-level course focused entirely on EM/the 3Cs.

Materials affected

Syllabus, assignments, lecture slides, handouts

Lessons learned

In this course the students got a direct experience of what the 3Cs mean when applied to tech-based entrepreneurship initiative. They framed the problem through the lens of curiosity and hypothesized solutions which focused on both technical problem solving and value creation. This simultaneous goal improved student awareness of the impact of their solution on the community and helped them appreciate what “value” means when the end user is included in the development of the solution. The process elevated their awareness that the solution to any engineering challenge is both technical in nature and human-centered. The results from this approach improved their ability to innovate and think entrepreneurially.


FSE 294: Entrepreneurial Mindset/3Cs of Innovation is a one-credit, 7.5 week special topic course dedicated to introducing students to EM through the 3Cs by demonstrating how traditional engineering design thinking can be empowered through mindset. Lecture-based and taught in-person, the course was developed and taught by Mr. Kenneth Mulligan, who also teaches advanced courses in entrepreneurship for both the Ira. A Fulton Schools of Engineering and W.P. Carey School of Business. Mr. Mulligan was awarded a KEEN Professorship for his fall 2016 semester offering of FSE 294. His proposal was titled “How to Hustle like 50 Cent. Fueling Problem Solving and Value Creation through the Entrepreneurial Mindset.” Mr. Mulligan’s FSE 501: Technology Entrepreneurship builds upon Dr. Brent Sebold’s FSE 301: Entrepreneurship and Value Creation.

Integration details

This effort went beyond integration, as the goal was developing and delivering an undergraduate-level course focused entirely on EM/the 3Cs. As such, the effort was more a process of showing the relationship of the traditional analytical approach to problem solving and the ways in which the 3Cs enhance problem solving through inclusion of the customer in design considerations. Students participated in President Michael Crow's Millennial Innovation Initiative and submitted projects, inspired by the 3Cs and aligned with this innovation initiative out of President Crow’s office, which addressed improvements in the educational experience for millennials at ASU.  Mr. Mulligan based his syllabus on the KEEN framework and sourced course materials from KEEN’s EM 101 curriculum, as well as other published material on the application of the 3Cs. 

A timeline of the effort follows:

Summer: Mr. Mulligan facilitated 18 SPARKYS’ Vista EM activity sessions during E2 Camp, which provided a nuanced understanding of how to best present EM’s core ideas.
Fall: Mr. Mulligan developed FSE 294: Entrepreneurial Mindset - 3Cs of Innovation, building on his experience leading the SPARKYS’ Vista EM activity during E2 Camp.

Spring: Mr. Mulligan delivered FSE 294: Entrepreneurial Mindset - 3Cs of Innovation for the first time in the fall of 2016. He has subsequently delivered EM 3C lectures in Computer Science, BME and several engineering student organizations. 
Summer: N/A
Fall: N/A


NOTE: Supporting resources for this case study can be found within its companion KEEN card (link below), which is also where the community can discuss the case and its broader topic.

Integration outcomes

The biggest challenge of this effort was getting students to think in terms of value creation. By aligning class projects with an innovation initiative out of President Crow’s office, the students felt their projects could have real impact and therefore they put significant work into producing real value. This work engaged them in a meaningful way with creating value, motivated them to seek out potential customers, and inspired their curiosity. The result was a collection of projects which reflected sound technical analysis with an eye toward real impact and the sense that some of the FSE 294 students were clearly inspired by the concepts and quickly became engaged in their own startups, which is not to say that all EM students should become entrepreneurs, only that they should be looking at risk and value creation with a broader lens. Mr. Mulligan is pleased with the impact he has had but believes that the full impact will be felt only when EM is integrated throughout the entire engineering curriculum. Put another way, the results are germinating and won't be fully understood until students have had a chance to implement these concepts in a larger and more integrated way with their studies and their professional aspirations--the intended fruition of the overall EM integration initiative.

Future plans

As Mr. Mulligan’s focus is primarily at the graduate level and the spring 2017 offering of FSE 294 had a very specific purpose at a very specific point in ASU’s EM integration initiative, there are no plans to offer the course again. If the course is offered again, however, Mr. Mulligan will revise it to ensure that it is updated and further refined. Mr. Mulligan regularly teaches technology entrepreneurship and strategic innovation and does incorporate the the 3Cs informally into his lectures. 


FSE 294 was developed to help accelerate the integration of EM throughout FSE. This effort required asking questions such as, How can students trained to think analytically incorporate a more subjective dimension to problem solving? And How do we re-train students to work outside of their comfort zone, to follow where their curiosity takes them, to think in lateral ways, and to consider solutions that includes the end user in the design process? Therefore, the core challenge of this effort was and is getting engineering students to think of the end user and explore possible solutions that are sourced from various lenses of innovation such as challenging orthodoxies and understanding customer needs, because engineering students are risk-averse. Entrepreneurial thinking is often uncomfortable for these students because of the amount of ambiguity and uncertainty. However, when students are shown how entrepreneurial mindset leads to improved solutions and greater impact, they get curious, which in turn opens their minds to the possibility that they can become better engineers through this way of seeing the challenges ahead. 

Ultimately, Mr. Mulligan credits his experience in administering the EM experience at E2 Camp with providing a better understanding of how freshmen and sophomore students react to and understand the meaning of the 3Cs. Beyond that, this effort benefitted from the  fact that ASU and FSE have embraced entrepreneurship through the Startup Center and the Venture Devils program, thereby providing students with a larger support system and a gateway to advance their entrepreneurial thinking into ASU’s startup ecosystem.