Entrpreneurial catalyst: Katelyn Noderer

  • Associate Director, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford, CA)
  • M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2013
  • B.A., Psychology and Design Arts, Lehigh University, 2009
Entrepreneurship education is really about teaching students a new way of problem solving and empowering them to go out and change the world.
-Katelyn Noderer

After serving two years with the Peace Corps in Ukraine, Katelyn Noderer enrolled in Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master’s program. Now she teaches others about entrepreneurship.

Your bachelor's degree is in Psychology and Design Arts. Why did you decide on the TE master's program?

When I was getting ready to come back to the United States, I made a conscious effort to figure out what I wanted to do next. I had really enjoyed my time as an undergrad at Lehigh and got a great deal out of my experience in the Integrated Product Development program [now known as the Technical Entrepreneurship Capstone program].

I didn't identify as an entrepreneur at the time, even though I had just spent the past couple of years creating and starting programs as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, but I knew I liked the creative problem-solving process and working in diverse teams. I wanted my next move to launch a career with opportunities for both, and the TE master's program checked those boxes.

What was the best part of the TE master's program?

The best part of TE...that's a tough one! I'd have to say that it was gaining the framework or structure to go about starting something, as well as the opportunity to work with diverse teams.

Talk a bit about what you learned.

We learned soft skills—such as how to network, how to deal with team dysfunction, how to manage our own feelings, and how to advance ideas—as well as technical skills. We also learned about creating a business plan and doing financials, about entrepreneurship systems and processes, and about determining where our own skills and backgrounds add the most value. I could go on!

What surprised you the most about TE?

The biggest surprise was how much fun it was! Because it's experiential, nothing ever felt like an assignment. The instructors were just as excited to be there as we were, and they were clearly very personally invested in all of us. This made us push ourselves.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

Several months after receiving my TE degree, I was hired as Assistant Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, part of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. I've since been promoted to Associate Director.

What are your daily responsibilities?

My position is a unique blend of entrepreneurism, education, and psychology. I spend most of my time on a program called Startup Garage, an intensive hands-on, project-based course in which students work in teams to design and test new business concepts that address real-world needs. My responsibilities include executing the course, developing and modifying the curriculum, and coaching students through the process.

You were a member of the very first TE cohort. Are you still in touch with others from that inaugural group?

I am. I frequently talk with Jessie Garcia from my cohort. I'll give her my advice on her startup [Tozuda], and we get together whenever she's out in California to talk about different startup ideas. She's my go-to person if I need to figure out how to build something. We've developed a long-lasting friendship outside of TE, and we actually raised money for the American Liver Foundation and climbed Mount Shasta together. I've also met with other TE alumni who happen to be in California to talk about my experiences with entrepreneurship in the Bay Area.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

As a result of my year in TE, I understand the process of bringing a product to life…and that is very empowering. I've taken much more of an experimental approach, knowing that I can figure out a way to test out a possible solution. I know enough about electronics and manufacturing that I can build a way to convey my idea and find out if it's worth spending more time on. I also still find myself using the creativity techniques, and I enjoy finding new ways to solve problems.

How are you applying the new skills and new mindset you developed in TE?

I use what I learned in TE every single day in my role as an educator. For example, I use it to come up with exercises, develop workbooks, and guide students through the learning process. My experiences in the TE program help me to empathize with students, form the foundation for my work, and shape daily interactions with others at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies here at Stanford.

Are there other ways that you've been using your TE degree?

Yes! I also volunteer my time once a week for Build, a national program using entrepreneurial education and experiential learning to inspire high school students in under-resourced communities. As a mentor, I coach a team of young people through product ideation, prototyping, pitching, marketing, and selling their final product.

What are you thinking about the future?

I enjoy the educational environment. During my TE year, I often wondered why the professors in the program—obviously enthralled with entrepreneurship—chose a classroom over a workshop. Now I get it. Sitting on the other side of the table, it makes perfect sense. I derive tremendous satisfaction from teaching students a process that can be leveraged to solve problems, make life decisions, and achieve goals. It's just so rewarding.

I plan on staying in the entrepreneurship and innovation space, whether it's in entrepreneurial education, starting my own company, or helping others solve big problems.

How would you sum up the role that the TE program played in your life?

I wouldn't be where I am today without it. Serving as an educator, both professionally and in a volunteer capacity, gives me the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of hundreds of students each year. I never would have had the skills and, perhaps most importantly, the passion for this work if I hadn't gone through the TE program.