Is business too overlooked by FIRST?

In my time with FRC, I have noticed that there is often little focus on business as a part of STEM. It makes me sad to see this, as a huge part of mathematics is business and there is no way a team can run successfully without a strong business side.
Should FIRST be working on creating more of an awareness of business related activities rather than just focusing on the technical and engineering side of things? Engineering is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but there are so many more aspects of FIRST to build upon.
I personally feel a good place to start would be setting up university scholarships for students going into business, rather than expanding more engineering, programming, or other tech related ones.
Thoughts? :slight_smile:
ALSO, I don’t mean in any way to stop promoting tech related things in FIRST. They are awesome, too.

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FIRST should have an entrepreneurship award…

I think the Entrepreneurship Award places a great emphasis on business, not to mention it’s sponsored by one of Silicon Valley’s largest VCs.

I think business acumen is an implicit part of other awards including but not limited to EI and Chairmans - you can’t run a successful program without having a mastery of organizational strategies, fundraising, writing, PR, etc.


And every team is impacted by HQ’s in ability to explain that. Helping run a team is like running a small business, and well almost all aspects are covered. Your product, which is where engineering comes into place is where all the focus is, but clearly all the press we get is about the engineering aspect. I would love to hear somebody at the top of the house discuss how FRC is great for a business career, because I will tell you that it is, and it isn’t that hard to sell people on that concept. (Yes I know we have the entrepreneurship award, honestly it doesn’t do the business aspect justice)

Also, for as long as I have been involved I haven’t heard too much from KPCB and they got one hell of a resume on their hands, they brought you AOL,, Navigenics, Citrix, Compaq, Electronic Arts, Genentech, Genomic Health, Geron Corporation, Google, Intuit, Juniper Networks, Nebula,Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Symantec, Verisign, WebMD and Zynga all at a very early stage, seeing that they back FIRST really speaks to how well the program is designed too.

Not only that, I believe KPCB has been sponsoring FIRST for most if not all of its 25 years of existence.

While it would be easy to troll you by pointing to the Entreprenuership Award, I will say that FIRST could be doing a better job at publicizing literally everything else that goes into running an FRC team besides engineering. On 422 some of the best members have not gone into engineering and do not plan on going into engineering. However every member has learned valuable skills while running the team as well as utilizing their talents from machining to graphic design to marketing to strategy. Whether or not they leave for a STEM field, they all have learned about the benefits of the program.

Without a mostly coherent business plan, 422 would not be able to survive, much less thrive and continue to improve. Our plan has covered many contingencies that have been exercised, like what happens when you don’t have a teacher sponsor (we’re in year 8! If you would like us to not see this for a ninth straight year, let me know), what happens when a sponsor pulls the rug out from under you a week before your biggest competition, and how to expand the team in a sustainable way should we balloon from 28 to 80 members over 3 years (at least I like to think we are ready).

We love to talk about every part of our team, I just wish FIRST would as well. I know training the next leaders of accountants isn’t as sexy to defense contractors that sponsor FRC as the next leaders in ICBM design, but training and education for both those and other fields have a place in our program.

Maybe an association of non-engineering mentors to help organize this aspect of the teams. They could call it NEMO or something like that.

I think it would be great to hear from a KPCB partner at a future CMP - I was at a talk from Mike Abbott that was very compelling.

In many ways, running an FRC team is a lot like running a startup. With each stage of growth come new learning opportunities.

Speaking of NEMO it does exist.

I believe FrankJ made what is colloquially referred to as a ‘joke’

I think that was sarcasm…

Sorry it was hard to tell if he was serious or not.

I fully agree that FIRST headquarters needs to put more emphasis on the other aspects of FRC. The fact is that the constant hype about making the students into engineers and students working with professional engineers make recruiting team members interested in other aspects of the program and mentors who aren’t engineers into the program.

A couple of years ago we were at an event and the father of one of the students was next to me down in spirit alley cheering for the team. He commented that this was so great and quite the mind blowing experience. He then said he wished he could be involved but sadly he was not an engineer he was the manager of a bank branch. I said great that is what we need I’ve got more engineers than I can shake a stick at and no one to help the team write a business plan.

Sure the country needs more engineers but we need competent people to fill many other jobs in society. Fact is if the world was full of engineers we would have never accomplished anything. You need at least one person with a gun to shoot the engineer so we can get on with the process of building something. It also helps to have people who handle finances, marketing and operations, all things that FRC can allow students to experience if they and potential mentors know of the opportunities.

I am still confused as to why FIRST doesnt emphasize the Entreprenuership Award as being one of the top awards??:confused:

In my 15 years of FIRST, the biggest hurdle or complaints I hear is COST.
There is a reason why many teams no longer do FIRST, especially newer teams once they run out of the initial startup funding support.

I would think that this is FIRST’s biggest issue in their quest to get more and more teams participating and that they would put a lot more emphasis on the “business” part.

I definitely think the business aspect is overlooked. The past years our team has neglected the business aspect and this year we really buckled down on it. I’d say now that it’s the strongest part of our program. It greatly benefits the team and keeps everyone occupied. Keeping the team visible in the community ends up benefiting all local teams in the end.

Also, shameless plug: if you’re in the area, we’re hosting a business summit in east Tennessee because we’ve been aware of this being overlooked for some time. Check out our thread.

YES. As an engineering mentor and drive coach, I too often think that business is ignored. For my team, I relate FIRST teams to NASCAR teams. Everyone sees the car, the driver, the pit crew and crew chief. But behind every great race team is a substantial business operation. Not just in dollars, but these businesses excel at investment, sponsorship, long term planning and logistics.

I also tell my business students that FIRST and its focus on STEM gives them an advantage in business careers. I feel that a business career in an engineering company can be more fruitful than other business careers. And that being able to talk to engineers about STEM topics would make them better business professionals. I understand that FIRST was created to promote STEM at a time when it wasn’t emphasized. But now there are additional opportunities to wrap the enterprise around STEM.

Forget awards. Business is ignored in the fact that there are few scholarship opportunities for the business students. FIRST should actively look for scholarship sponsors for business students that can help tie in their STEM exposure. This would help us recruit business students. I respectfully submit STEM+B.

Mentor and Drive Coach for Team 3534

Just to continue the thought process a bit…

I think FIRST provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to students how engineers and business people can work together and play off one another’s strengths.

Too often in my university setting as a CS major I see developers who look down on business people, who in their minds, lack any real skill. And vice versa - business majors with a “hot startup” who just need a “code monkey” to “make it show up on the iPhone.”

I think educating students before they get to college can improve the climate in general and improve the likelihood of balanced partnerships that foster innovation.

Sorry I thought I put the sardonic humor smiley on my post :]

The OP has the right idea. Business planning & sustainability is a big part of running a First team. Ask any Chairmans winner. You don’t get there without a sustained effort.

Anyway look under the mentor resources in the FRC section of First web site. When at a competition go around & talk to the multi year teams. Especially EI & Chairman winners. Part of how they got there is being helpful.

Our Business plan is here

As primarily a robot mentor I am really happy for & proud of our business & outreach teams. We would not be where we are without them. Of they wouldn’t have a robot without us.

As someone who has lived with this question for the past decade…yes. But it’s better. (warning, this is long!)

I was a student in FRC in 99, graduated in 2001. I chose to go to Babson College (#1 in Entrepreneurship for 20 years by US News! Hell yeah!) and only applied to business programs. I also was accepted into UCONN (Storrs), Northeastern, and Bentley.

One of the main reasons for applying to Northeastern was to join 125. After being accepted I received a call from on a wednesday night claiming to be the “dean of the Business school”, asking what could convince me to go to NU. I asked how close the Engineering building was. He couldn’t tell me, and asked why I cared. I then spent the next 10 minutes explaining FIRST, and when I hung up the phone I knew I wasn’t going there.

(Side note: I’m friends with the 125 leadership now and they know this story. We chalk it up to large university problems, and laugh about what might have been had I been there in that time period.)

Upon graduating HS, I had three years of dedication to the program, and zero chance of scholarship. None of the scholarships were for anything outside of STEM majors. I remember the comments and snide remarks I got when I shared I was going to business school, but I didn’t care. I knew engineering wasn’t right for me, but I could find a way that worked.

If being a business kid in FRC was alienating, being a FRC kid in business school was much of the same. I definitely had a different mindset, different knowledge base. I was the only girl in my sorority with a toolbox, which made me the most popular girl during move-in. I asked questions regarding tech that my professors couldn’t answer. In business school, my fascination with the internet was “weird”, whereas from a CS or engineering perspective it was “normal”.

Fast forward to now. I do feel that I chose the right path, that it prepared me in ways that students who chose engineering will never have. It has made me stronger, more resilient. Even though people still assume I’m an engineer and sneer when I tell them I went to business school, I can tell them that I just “play an engineer on TV”. Business school taught me how to deal with people, and how to answer that question correctly.

I kept with FIRST ever since that day in 99 (except for 2003, which I heard was ok to skip ;)). 15 seasons, 14 years of volunteering, and I love where I am now. Being Chief VC and starting up the NE District are great challenges that I am proud of, and I can’t wait to do more in 2015. My husband is in FIRST, and I can’t imagine our lives without it.

My day job is awesome too. I stuck with software after graduating college, and now I’m a Salesforce consultant for nonprofits. My FIRST experience helps me every single day with my current clients, and my tech background makes me smarter than the average business school grad. I have a MEd in Instructional Design as well, which I chose to pursue after my study of Learning Management Systems.

So, back to the start. Is it overlooked? Yes. Is it better? Definitely yes! There’s scholarship money that wasn’t there before, not just for business, but for everyone. I know now FIRST needs to focus on STEM careers to stay relevant in their nonprofit market. I LOVE that we’re expanding into other realms, as culture change means changing everyone, not just the tech companies.

We’ve come a long way. We have a long way to go.

As the Chief Community Operations Officer on my team, I work a lot with politicians, STEM professionals, teachers, and business leaders. I always volunteer as a student ambassador at FIRST events, so I meet with a wide range of sponsors in particular. In all these encounters, I never fail to get nervous and uncomfortable when I’m asked about my future plans. I’ve watched the surprise and even disappointment of countless people as they get less interested in what I have to say when I tell them that I don’t want to major in engineering.

I understand that I’m not the poster child for FIRST, but I still represent the incredible impact that FIRST can have on a student’s education and life opportunities.

I feel like some of the problems lie in how FIRST markets its programs to sponsors, promising this amazingly huge and talented group of engineers. No one comes out on the field to talk to the future business leaders, the graphic designers, the inspiring activists. The program has developed to the point where sponsors should understand the effect they have in fostering all different kinds of people and interests. I know there has been talk of changing how FIRST fundraises from the top down, so maybe they’re already on top of this.

I think there are a few reasons you’ll never see this focus within FIRST to inspiring business skills:

  1. Business Administration/Management is already the most popular college major.

  2. A new FIRST teams long term sustainability is not completely up to the students on the team, on successful (surviving/sustainable) teams, this is mostly a mentor driven initiative. This is not to say there are not exceptions, but usually someone needs to be around for more than a few years to keep the team going.