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Multidisciplinarity is one of the key elements of entrepreneurship education — anyone who wants to build a successful company must understand topics or work with people outside their own major. True multidisciplinarity, however, can be difficult to achieve. Even though Aalto is one university, the different schools still have different systems and students tend to stick with courses from their schools. Even on existing multidisciplinary courses, often only the lucky ones who end up in a team with “outsiders” get the multidisciplinary experience. To really understand the different aspects of creating new business, all students of a course should engage in true cross-school collaboration.

That was the premise when AVP teachers Håkan Mitts and Elina Kähkönen decided to create a new, multidisciplinary test course that combines chemical product design with R&D management. They wanted to test if it would be possible to combine two courses with different learning outcomes, and found out that it is — if the courses supplement each other the right way. Joined by Satu Rekonen and Lauri Saarinen from the department of Industrial Engineering and Management, they made the course a truly multidisciplinary experience.

The resulting multidisciplinary consumer product development course — which only runs this one time — effectively combines two existing courses: Basics in Research and Development (R&D) Management (TU-C3030) and Chemical Product Design (CHEM-CV). Both courses still exist; students who enroll in either of the courses will take part in the combined course and get the multidisciplinary experience. In addition to just combining R&D management and chemical product design, the teachers also decided to add design and marketing to give the students a full package of entrepreneurial knowledge.

In spring 2020, the students who took the course formed teams and then chose between three learning tracks: R&D project management, design and marketing, or chemical product development. Each team would then act as an independent product development unit developing a new consumer product for a Finnish cosmetics company. After the course, students had all they need to develop a new product and take it from the initial user and market research to production readiness.

Student working on a cosmetic product

Students doing texture tests for their cosmetic products

Providing the students such an assignment that requires cooperation with different study fields is crucial in creating a multidisciplinary course. Another requirement is more practical: if the new course is created by combining existing courses, they should be roughly of the same size in order to make balanced teams possible.

The feedback from both students and teachers has been extremely positive. Students from chemical engineering got to understand what else is needed besides lab work to get a real product, and the industrial engineering and management students had a real, tangible product to work with that they also helped create. That’s something we’d call a win-win.

Multidisciplinarity is one way to add entrepreneurial elements into education. At AVP, we believe they are beneficial for all students. If you’d like to help your students by making your course more entrepreneurial, don’t hesitate to get in touch.