As the Entrepreneur-in-Residence in the College of Engineering, Eric Crawley’s purpose is to help students and faculty members develop their creative ideas into productive new companies. But, in another sense, his job is to serve as the unofficial dream enabler in the college and beyond. “What I really get out of my position is seeing people live their dreams!” exclaims Crawley.
Essentially, Crawley enables dreams by putting potential entrepreneurs in touch with the information, assets, and support they need for carrying their ventures forward. Or, as Sally Darby, Associate Director for Career Planning and Student Development, explains: “Eric works with students and faculty to discuss product ideas, how to take an idea to market, how to obtain venture funding, intellectual property issues, etc. He’s been a great add!”
While helping people live their dreams, Crawley is available in the Experiential Learning space in 114 Marston Hall every Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. He sees students by appointment or on a drop-in basis.
Though he probably wouldn’t admit it, Crawley is well-qualified for his volunteer position as Entrepreneur-in-Residence. He holds a B.A. degree in Systems Science and an M.S. in Engineering Management and over the last three decades has worked for Rockwell International, Wang Laboratories, Symbolics, Ford Motor Company, Wellfleet Communications, Bay Networks, Juniper Networks, Funk Software, BigBand Networks, Akamai Technologies, and a variety of startups.
But his labor of love was always startups. “I’ve always felt it was a whole lot of fun to take a brand new startup company and build it into a going venture.”
As Crawley readily suggests, “Entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Only a few people are qualified and able at it. But even those who fit the bill need a lot of support. Nobody starts a company by himself or herself. Networking is a big key. They come to me to find out if entrepreneurship is something they really want to do and if their ideas are worthwhile.”
Crawley says that the main thing he tries not to do is evaluate venture ideas. Why not? “Because quite honestly the market is very efficient at that, and the tools of the Lean Launchpad, the method used for most startups these days, makes that inexpensive and efficient,” he explains. “But I do consult quite happily with people on how they can move forward with their ideas in various ways. My job is to take faculty or students interested in pursuing a venture project and pointing them to the various resources in and around campus that allow them to find out everything they need to know about creating an entrepreneurial company.”
One of the main resources for aspiring entrepreneurs on campus is the Innovation Challenge, co-founded some 12 years ago by the then College of Engineering Dean Michael Malone. This year-long series of entrepreneurial competitions will climax on April 6 at 5:00 p.m. in the Campus Center Amherst Room, when the seven teams of finalists will be competing for $65,000 in funding to support their ventures.
In that context, Crawley has been helping several of the finalists, including two teams from the College of Engineering. One of those is Julie Bliss Mullen, a Ph.D. candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, who has developed a water treatment device called ElectroPure aimed at homes and small community systems to combat diverse water quality issues. The other engineering finalists are undergrads Rune Percy and Alex Smith of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department. They will be pitching ARBioDesign, which is developing a device that can quickly, easily, and inexpensively analyze a drop of blood to improve current, outdated dialysis treatment.
As Crawley explains, “I mostly help engineering students, but I also am glad to help any other students from any other departments on campus. I probably talk with about 20 different students, sometimes several times each, over the course of a semester during my once-a-week office hours.”
One of his many other activities is talking to various classes, mostly about his position as Entrepreneur-in-Residence, the basics of entrepreneurship, and the things related to it that students might want to consider.
“I also taught a seminar class in the fall semester called Startups for Engineers, which was really an experiment to see how widespread the interest was in the college,” says Crawley. “There were 16 students in that. A lot of it was bringing in other student entrepreneurs who were already involved in things such as the Innovation Challenge; just talking about all the aspects of entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs ought to be aware of.”
Crawley also gets involved in the judging for the two senior design capstone project competitions staged at the end of the semester by MIE and the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. In addition, he helps to channel startup companies into sponsoring projects carried out in the senior design courses. “As an example,” Crawley says, “I helped point some local entrepreneurs toward the MIE senior design course so that teams of engineering seniors could work on projects they needed.”
One of those enterprises is the SteelBlade company, conceived in a Springfield College dorm, and now the fledgling startup wants our MIE students to help design a groundbreaking (or, in this case, fruit-crushing) portable blender capable of incorporating a fruit infuser, a carbonation attachment, and other amenities into the blender bottle, all through detachable bases.
Meanwhile Crawley introduced Treaty LLC., a biotech startup, to the MIE design course so it could resolve a couple of its critical needs through sponsored projects. The company manufactures a biodegradable antifog coating called FogKicker that can be applied to glasses, goggles, bathroom mirrors, car windshields, and other surfaces. First, Treaty needs a machine that will accurately and efficiently fill its FogKicker bottles with the product’s formula. Furthermore, the company requires a device that will hold glasses and goggles in place at trade shows and in shops while FogKicker is being demonstrated to potential customers.
One result of Crawley’s networking efforts is that this semester the MIE course has by far the most sponsored projects, 13 projects introduced by 10 companies, in the long history of the senior capstone course.
“My position serves the two-pronged mission of the College of Engineering to educate the students of Massachusetts and to invigorate the economy of the Commonwealth,” says Crawley.
He adds that “I am interested in helping build and enhance an entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout the Valley. If we help budding entrepreneurs start companies, they’re economic catalysts. You get this organic growth of things happening. Well-paying jobs get created. Needed products are produced. A healthy and diverse business environment grows. And you get this all happening without additional infusions of public investments or tax breaks.”
Besides, Crawley enjoys the constant delight of seeing people live their dreams. What could be better than that? (March 2017)