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Professor David Olawale: Developing True Innovators

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Assistant Professor of the R.B. Annis School of Engineering David O. Olawale, PhD, PMP, knows that he’s not just teaching students the principles and applications of engineering. He understands that he’s developing future innovators. In fact, the passionate instructor came to the University of Indianapolis’ R.B. Annis School of Engineering for that reason—to guide the next generation of engineers as they harness their engineering expertise and apply it to real-life business and societal problems.

A founding assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, Dr. Olawale helps students grasp the importance of collaboration in bringing new, innovative products to market. He should know. With two U.S. patents, years of research, and the founding of two tech startups, he’s devoted much effort to seeking out the right partners and investors for his product ideas.

In fact, Dr. Olawale’s company, Valgotech, was recently awarded $1 million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Along with the ViPER research group, Valgotech is using the highly competitive Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase 2 grant to continue development of advanced Lithium-Sulfur battery technology. The NSF’s STTR program focuses on transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial potential and/or societal benefit.

“The NSF’s investment in equipping engineers and scientists with entrepreneurial competencies through programs such as the National Innovation Corps is yielding multiplied dividends,” says Dr. Olawale. “Likewise, I’m developing the same entrepreneurial mindset and competencies in engineering students at the R.B. Annis School of Engineering.” 

Unique Training Approach

Within the Annis School’s DesignSpine, students spend their sophomore through senior years working on real-life projects and, as they do, honing project management, research methods, entrepreneurship, and leadership competencies. Dr. Olawale teaches junior level engineering students as part of the DesignSpine. The students undergo experiential entrepreneurial mindset and innovation training in which they identify a need or problem, develop solutions to the problem, create a prototype, and test it with potential customers. They learn about intellectual property protection, financial model, and creation of a business model around their proposed product. They also get to work with industry mentors as well as Art and Design student teams. Finally, they get to present their solution prototypes and business models to potential investors at the UIndy Engineering Business Pitch Competition. In addition, Dr. Olawale has developed partnership with the Elevate Nexus through which teams that decide to pursue their idea as a startup can compete for up to $200,000 in investment.