Architecture program encourages entrepreneurship

The NDSU Department of Architecture and the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth are helping to foster entrepreneurship with a pair of courses designed to create new software.

The pair of graduate courses, designed by Challey Fellow Ganapathy Mahalingam, professor of architecture, highlight innovation, global trade, entrepreneurship and free markets. Students develop ideas and business plans for their software and create and market their product. 

Products developed in the Advanced Architectural Design Studio, which began in fall 2020, include a translator for architectural jargon, augmented reality-based assistants for construction sites, an exchange for young architects to find clients, a connector for the people with disabilities and a reality checker for residential projects.

Ethan McCullough, BArch ’20, created an app last year that can be used in the early design stage that provides design recommendations using the Mahoney Tables system. Mahoney Tables are used to guide climate-appropriate design. McCullough’s app was the first to launch from the design studio.

“If the classes and Dr. Mahalingam’s assignments to think like an entrepreneur weren’t available, the app I made would never have been created or someone else might have made it in the future,” McCullough said. “One of the biggest things I learned is to use your current and new skills to sharpen them, instead of letting them go dull.”

McCullough said he had a background in computer coding before taking Mahalingam’s design class. However, he never thought of applying those skills to architecture. The design studio helped open McCullough’s mind to new possibilities in the industry. 

It’s also helped him think more like an entrepreneur.

“The process from start to finish of making a business plan to putting a product out to market, made me realize how possible it is to start a business and make profit,” he said. “I definitely will ride this wave of entrepreneurship as long as I can and might make new companies along the way for other purposes as I now have gone through the whole process.”

All of the design studio’s software ideas were developed for design professions in developing countries. The students worked with cohorts from the CARE School of Architecture in India to develop and market their products.

The process taught students about direct and indirect trade barriers, the advantages and disadvantages of global distribution channels and working collaboratively with global partners.

“Even if you have a kernel of a good idea when it comes to a service or product, try to explore and learn everything around that idea to see if it could work,” McCullough said. “NDSU has many faculty and tools at our disposal that we can use to achieve these ideas. NDSU is a special place to learn and grow because it offers many options for students at a good price. Faculty skillsets and tools are at our disposal to help us achieve success in our chosen fields.” 

Mahalingam said he’s hoping other NDSU departments and faculty encourage student entrepreneurship.

“The time and effort spent by a faculty member in becoming an entrepreneur, albeit working only one day in a work week, provides the opportunity to generate rich educational experiences for NDSU students such as these, and pays rich dividends for students and institution alike,” he said. “It is also aligned with the mission of the institution as envisaged by stakeholders in the state of North Dakota.”