Lissa Barron| Crain’s Custom Media

A new program at Oakland University brings together the engineering department and the business school to prepare students for the future.

Beginning in the fall, the university will offer engineers a new course called “Competing in a Connected World.” The idea is to bring together students from engineering and business to develop and assess ideas for commercial viability.

“We want to get feedback from southeast Michigan industries to see how we can take it from one course to something bigger,” said engineering department chair Robert Van Til.

The university will use a $40,000 donation from Enterprise Interest Group to build upon the course and possibly develop executive workshops or symposiums.

Oakland engineering school graduate and advisory board member Gregg Garrett proposed the idea for the course to prepare students for the future.

“Over the last 15 years, the internet connected computers and people to one another,” he said. “Now over the course of next decade or two, the internet will have the same effect on every product or thing in the environment.”

Garrett, who taught the course last year, is the founder of CGS Advisors, a growth consulting company for technology driven businesses.

“What I learned from students is that they are already living a connected life, they were raised as digital natives,” he said.  “But the insight they didn’t have is that the rest of the world hasn’t caught up yet.”

Garrett says students learn about the “connectedness of everything and everyone in the world and all the value that can come out of it.” They will complete a project in which they pitch a “connected product or service” to a mock venture company board made up of Garrett and other area professionals.

Garrett serves as an adviser to many Fortune 100 corporate leaders and is a contributing writer for Connected World Magazine. He has held senior-level positions at Volkswagen Group of America and Deutsche Telekom.

“Manufacturing companies are at a point where they need to ask themselves – in the next generation of my company, will being a product company suffice, or do we need to start thinking about how our product becomes a service,” said Garrett. “Users’ expectations are changing… they want the company to stay connected offering new services and upgrades, and maybe not charging for the product, but instead charging for usage.”

Garrett says Detroit is uniquely ahead of the curve compared to other markets.

“We in the Detroit market have been on this connected journey for quite a while now, specifically inside the auto industry that has imbedded a tremendous amount of electronics and computer hardware and software into their products for a number of years,” he said.  “With the advent of companies like OnStar, they’ve been connecting their products to the internet for well over a decade.”

The “Competing in a Connected World” course will be offered from Sept. 4 through Dec. 13.

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