Book Review: Empathic Entrepreneurial Engineering

Article by Esther Ventura-Medina

David Fernandez Rivas; ISBN: 9783110746624 (paperback); De Gruyter; 29.50 (paperback, PDF, and ePub); 2022

AS SOMEONE that innovates teaching in the higher education sector, I am glad to be able to review Empathic Entrepreneurial Engineering: The Missing Ingredient. The title combines two domains (entrepreneurship and emotions) that have, in recent years, gained prominence in engineering education and continuous professional development.

The idea of using empathy to decipher the core of a problem is arguably the book’s strength, advocating an approach that can yield long-lasting and sustainable solutions or innovations. I can attest to this as an educator, having discovered that designing a successful learning experience not only requires identifying an educational need but also putting myself in the place of a student to consider what motivates them, if and how they might participate, and the benefits for them.

The book presents a clear argument for using empathy to understand the needs of stakeholders in any given problem or context, while applying engineering knowledge to devise an innovative solution, and persuasively communicate and exchange knowledge with stakeholders and others.

Chapters 1 and 2 offer a glossary that defines five key concepts – engineer, entrepreneur, empathy, persuasiveness, and knowledge – from which the Knowledge-Persuasiveness-Empathy (KPE) conceptual framework for solving problems is built, providing a basis for the following chapters. The framework emphasises the human-centredness of the entrepreneurial journey, putting the problem-solver in the shoes of the end-user – a positive addition to entrepreneurial education in engineering. In my experience, most courses about entrepreneurship for engineers available at universities and online focus on building skills for technological innovation, business creation, and economic development. Understanding of how the problem they aim to solve impacts involved parties is relegated to the background. As an educator, I’ve often seen undergraduates’ chemical process diagrams that offer great technical solutions but have little consideration for operations (eg inaccessible valves or manholes for maintenance), highlighting the importance of getting students, early on, to think of the needs of all participants.

The book also provides guidance and tips about challenges and decisions that entrepreneurs might face and how they might be addressed, and how to teach KPE and other entrepreneurship approaches. Although it mentions that KPE can complement alternative approaches in STEM, I find that this is done rather superficially. More on how the different approaches might be complementary would have benefited educators already engaged in this space.

Chapters are interspersed by boxouts that offer additional information, questions for consideration, and points for discussion. While these are useful, the symbols used to indicate their purpose are not always obvious at first glance, introducing a level of confusion as opposed to enabling quick identification. More helpful are the take-home messages at the beginning of each chapter aiding understanding of what follows, along with an estimated reading time that should aid busy readers.

At the end of the book, we find an interesting account of interviews with different entrepreneurs describing their journeys, views on empathy, and how they envision the KPE framework working in practice. Most of the innovation journeys are in the context of products stemming from chemical engineering research, but the approaches can be transferred to other fields. Also convenient is that while clearly based on scientific and engineering principles and business knowledge, the examples are delivered with an almost conversational tone, making them accessible and engaging, suitable for STEM undergraduates, and a useful resource for educators. Importantly, practicing engineers who want to learn about different approaches to solving problems, and move from new ideas and concepts to reality and implementation, might also benefit.

In all, Empathic Entrepreneurial Engineering and its KPE framework provides a resource guide, information on specific topics (eg entrepreneurship, persuasion, empathy, decision-making), and a supportive tool for solving problems with empathy and ingenuity. As we move towards trans-disciplinarity in both education and engineering practice, it is essential to develop an empathic mindset to enable effective communication and understanding as we solve problems, and this book can support that.

Article by Esther Ventura-Medina

professor of innovation in STEM education, Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands

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