Exploring Entrepreneurship

Professor and Alumnus Michael Piana poses at the front of his ChE 379 Entrepreneurship class.Texas ChE offered a new course this semester, ChE 379 Entrepreneurship, led by alumnus and established entrepreneur Michael Piana.

The elective introduces upperclassmen and graduate students to the basic concepts of entrepreneurship and the practical approaches of taking a business idea and monetizing it. Students of the course explore the keys to understanding the business process, setting up a business and the factors for success through team exercises and projects.

“Chemical engineers are great at figuring out a process for a complex situation with lots of variables, which is what entrepreneurship is about in the business world,” Piana said. “Entrepreneurship can be a very rewarding and satisfying career based on a chemical engineering degree.”

Piana received his bachelors degree from Texas ChE in 1976 and then started his career as a process refinery engineer. He then combined his experience with an MBA from UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business in 1978 to move into entrepreneurial dot com businesses and business consulting.

“My success is founded on my ability for managing the solution process that evaluates options and the impact on a multitude of variables,” Piana said. “I see entrepreneurship as a classic ChE problem of using resources to make something happen, just not with chemicals, materials and energy.”

Four Texas ChE alumni, along with Dr. Delia Milliron, meet with the ChE 379 Entrepreneurship class to talk about their career experiencesThe course has not only been an excellent resource to encourage entrepreneurship, but has also become an opportunity to enhance student, alumni and faculty interaction. Texas ChE alumni Taylor Harvey (Ph.D. ’14), Kevin Stolle (B.S. ’80), Dana Sellers (B.S. ’75) and Jim Miller (B.S. ’68), along with Associate Professor Delia Milliron, shared their entrepreneurial experiences and answered questions during a meet-and-greet with students on April 28. Each of these alumni have integrated their background in chemical engineering into entrepreneurship, establishing companies such as Lucelo Technologies, Encore, Quimtec LP, and many others.

“It’s exciting that our students now have the opportunity to learn the basics of entrepreneurship from one of our most innovative alumni,” Dr. Thomas Truskett, chairman of the department, said. “I have no doubt that the new elective course and mentorship that Michael Piana is providing will be invaluable to them as they begin their careers.”

While the course has only been offered for one semester, it is quickly making an impact on the students enrolled.

“If you are interested in business, I would absolutely take this class,” Senior Zach Nadela said. “You learn about all the parts that an entrepreneur would know, but Professor Piana explains it from a chemical engineer’s point of view which makes it more relatable to our major. Hearing his story of how he worked for large companies and moved on to making his own venture goes to show that chemical engineers can really do anything.”

ChE 379 will be taught in the fall semester and is offered to upperclassmen and graduate students. Contact undergraduate coordinator Kelly McQueary at kellym@che.utexas.edu or graduate coordinator Kate Baird at kbaird@che.utexas.edu for information on enrollment.

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