NSF I-Corps program alumna shares real-life lessons in entrepreneurship with her Texas Tech University students
Dr. Hyo Jung (Julie) Chang didn't just talk to her spring semester retail buying course students about innovation and entrepreneurship. Drawing on what she's been learning as a first-time startup entrepreneur, Chang helped her students experience that for themselves.
Chang is an associate professor of Hospitality and Retail Management at Texas Tech University. She specializes in consumer behavior, retail strategy, and retail environment. She's also one of four TTU researchers involved in a startup called Smart Mirror. The multi-disciplinary team completed the NSF I-Corps program in March. Smart Mirror was featured in the Hub Hustle blog in February.
"Usually when I teach this course, we talk about how much it is going to cost the retailer to buy a product and how much mark-up there needs to be," Chang says. "Now, I'm also implementing lessons I designed based on what I've learned through the startup process. The Innovation Hub programs and I-Corps have taught me so much. I wanted to introduce my students to that kind of learning and the entrepreneurial spirit."
At the beginning of the course, Chang brought in Weston Waldo, commercialization program director for the Innovation Hub, to speak to the class. "I wanted to encourage the students to explore the opportunities, resources, and support available to them through the Hub," she says. "There are lots of success stories that have come out of the Hub. For students interested in starting a business, the Hub is a great place for helping make their dreams possible."
"The first half of the spring semester, I had to conduct the class online because I was participating in I-Corps," Chang says. "I was looking forward to meeting with my students face-to-face in the second half of the semester, which was project-focused. Then suddenly, the COVID-19 epidemic happened." Despite having to continue the class in the virtual environment, Chang says her students and teaching assistants adapted well to the challenge.
Her students formed teams that met in online breakout rooms. Each group researched cotton and sustainability to come up with ideas for new products. Then the teams created business and marketing plans for their product ideas using the Business Model Canvas. Chang says, "My role during the project portion of the course was more that of a mentor- checking in on the teams regularly and offering resources and guidance instead of directing them on what they should do."
"The project involved students using creativity and analytical thinking," Chang says. "Entrepreneurship is a great platform to help build strong group communication and coordination skills, strategic-thinking, and leadership. Those kinds of skills have been crucial for our success as the Smart Mirror team."
More than grades on the project were at stake for her students, Chang adds. The teams presented their work in what Chang called the Business Case Competition at the end of the semester. "Its structure was similar to some of the Hub's competitions like iLaunch," she says. Chang's class teams competed for prize money. Funding was provided by Cotton Incorporated. Judges included Texas Tech University Retail Department faculty, cotton farming and industry leaders, and TTU Innovation Hub staff.
The students' ideas were wide-ranging. They included a COVID-19 face mask, a toothbrush, and a car fragrance product. The prize-winning ideas were packing peanuts made from cotton by-products, barbecue grilling pellets made of cotton field waste materials, and ice cream made with cottonseed oil.
Chang says she's thinking about how to incorporate lessons in innovation and entrepreneurship into more courses she teaches. "An important part of being a teacher, to me, is being able to encourage and lift up my students. I get great satisfaction in seeing their progress and success. Through sharing my experiences, I think I can help my students better see their potential and new opportunities. Maybe I can provide them something they haven't even thought about," she says.