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NUvention Course Looks to the Future of Transportation

NUvention: Transportation challenges students to create businesses in a vital, yet oft-overlooked industry

From autonomous vehicles and drones to car-sharing services, the transportation industry is rife with headline-grabbing, disruptive innovations.

And an upstart course at Northwestern University is getting in on the action.

After a successful debut last fall, NUvention: Transportation launches again this September. The quarter-long course sponsored by Boeing and created by the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Northwestern’s world-renowned Transportation Center challenges students to create a transportation-oriented startup before pitching their ideas to potential investors.

“This experiential course is designed to expose students to all aspects of the business development process and how they can transform an opportunity into a business,” says Farley Center co-director Mark Werwath, one of the course’s instructors alongside Transportation Center associate director Bret Johnson.

Mark WerwathOver 10 weeks, interdisciplinary teams of graduate and undergraduate students from across the Northwestern campus use lean startup methodologies to conceptualize and build transportation businesses. With industry mentors providing feedback, counsel, and connections, students work through market applications, needs, competition, regulations, cost issues, and more to propel their idea. Each week, teams then pitch their idea, adding more content and detail informed by their ongoing interviews and research.

“The pitch forces teams to continuously refine their scope, alignment, and value propositions,” says Werwath, a veteran entrepreneur and startup consultant. “We want students to understand how to formulate a viable business model through research and planning so they can make it a compelling opportunity for investors.”

Like other NUvention courses in areas such as energy, medical, therapeutics, and analytics, Werwath says NUvention: Transportation immerses students in a specific vertical so they can gain a deep sense of its major players, challenges, and opportunities. That element of the course includes guest speakers from companies such as General Motors, Boeing, BMW Technology, Ford, Uber, and Coyote Logistics.

“Students get to hear from people who have lived these stories,” Werwath says.

Recent Master of Engineering Management (MEM) graduate Meenu Satiya ‘17, a member of last fall’s NUvention: Transportation class, says the course provided her the personal connection needed to land an internship at HERE Technologies, a Chicago-based company that offers a data-driven location solutions, as well as deep knowledge about bringing an entrepreneurial idea to life.

“I had eight years of corporate experience and my own ideas of how entrepreneurship worked, but this course added valuable and practical insights about how to move an entrepreneurial idea forward,” Satiya said.

Though transportation and logistics represent approximately 8 percent of the nation’s current GDP and an estimated $1.5 trillion in annual spending, Werwath says entrepreneurs often overlook the field’s potential.

“The timing, technology, and opportunities to solve real problems for real people in real time are massive in transportation,” he says.

It’s something students during NUvention: Transportation’s debut run last fall discovered firsthand as they assembled three diverse projects:

  • Upload Technologies, an “airport” for drones featuring recharging and data up/downloading capabilities
  • CLAEM, a sensor-based security innovation for airports
  • Route 2, a workstation commuter service designed to boost business travelers’ productivity

“For students interested in the transportation space and eager to look at next-generation problems and solutions to students interested in monetizing their designs, people researching transportation, or simply those interested in entrepreneurship, NUvention: Transportation helps students understand how to evolve an idea into a business in a very exciting field,” Werwath says.

NUvention: Transportation continues accepting applications for the upcoming fall quarter. Visit the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship's website to register.