Entrepreneurs have an important role in supporting our world’s economic growth and social progress.

Senior mechanical engineering students Bailee DePhelps and Mitchell Scott honed their entrepreneurship skills in WSU’s Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. They competed as one of 24 teams from eight universities at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, and they recently took second place in Washington State University’s Business Plan Competition.

We caught up with the duo following their successes and found out why entrepreneurship experiences are so important to students.

Q: You recently competed in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge in Seattle. How did it go?

Mitchell: The Environmental Innovation Challenge was a great experience. We presented some work to a large group of judges who were interested in the environmental impact and business viability of different clean tech startups in the Pacific Northwest. Getting feedback from industry professionals was very helpful for understanding the business as a whole.

Bailee: It was a great opportunity for networking with business and industry specialists. It was also interesting to see all the ideas other teams brought to the competition. Overall, it was a great learning experience and I think our team grew a great deal because of it.

Q: How did you get involved with entrepreneurship at WSU?

Bailee: I had a friend who was a part of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute. I wanted to learn how to utilize entrepreneurial thinking in all of my endeavors. Entrepreneurs think outside of the box, push the boundaries, know how to improve from constructive feedback, and learn to stand back up after a failure and use it as a learning experience.

Mitchell: I originally heard about the program my sophomore year through Professor Howard Davis. I was always interested in entrepreneurship and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about something other than engineering.

Q: What are some of the highlights of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute?

Bailee: I learned the extreme importance of personal branding. The Frank program provides feedback to help each member on his or her 30-second elevator pitch. This short first impression is the make-or-break for many entrepreneurs.

Mitchell: I think going down to Silicon Valley and seeing all of the companies down there was the biggest highlight. It’s a different and very beneficial experience to see startups at their source, and I felt that I learned a lot after touring companies down there.

Bailee: I’ve had the chance to network with some extremely important people. I met Iris Bombleyn, a vice president at Lockheed-Martin, and executives, entrepreneurs, founders, and very successful investors. This is definitely not the sort of thing an average college student has the chance to experience.

Mitchell: There are many different parts of a business that you do not see from the perspective of an engineer or researcher, and being involved in entrepreneurship activities has allowed me to get a new perspective on the entirety of a business.

Q: What has been the most exciting project you have worked on?

Bailee: My teammate Mitchell Scott and I have been working to create a business model for a cost effective, movable, hydrogen liquefaction unit with Protium Innovations Inc.

Bailee and Mitchell sit in chairs by their product booth.
WSU mechanical engineering students Bailee DePhelps and Mitchell Scott at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

We worked on the system in its technical form through our Mechanical Engineering 316 class, so we had a chance to dig into the nuts and bolts of the project. Now, we are focusing on the business side to really get the ball moving and bring in some funding to support the project.

Mitchell: I’ve worked on an unmanned aerial systems project and a hydrogen liquefaction project. They were both interesting in their own unique way, and I think the hydrogen liquefaction project is very interesting due to the complexity and potentially revolutionary aspects of the technology.

Q: What’s next?

Mitchell: After graduation, I hope to either get a job related to this work or go to grad school to continue research.

Bailee: I graduate in December and I hope to work in reliability engineering. My dream job would be one that would allow me leave a positive impact on my community and see first-hand the impacts of my work.