The Engineering Entrepreneurs Program (EEP) at NC State has a 1-credit hour course aimed at introducing entrepreneurship and new product development (ECE 383).
Since 2010, the course has an integrated component where student teams are challenged with making a toy for kindergarteners at a local elementary school, Fred Olds. Not only is the toy project a hands on learning opportunity, but the students learn some fundamental concepts of customer research and product design.
With lectures focused on customer research, product development, and presentation pitches, the students get an initial chance to play and interact with the kindergartners first hand during an “observation day”. Over the course of the next few weeks, the teams separately brainstorm ideas, come up with designs, and ultimately build a toy.
At the finale, termed “Toy Day”, teams bring their toy to the kindergarten. Once all the kindergartners have had a chance to play with each toy, they get to choose their favorite toy by standing next to it. Kindergartners are surprisingly difficult customers to design for. More than once, even the professors and teachers have been wrong at guessing which toy the kindergartners liked the best.