A Different Approach — ITMO’s New Program on Project Management

How to make the collaboration between managers and developers successful? Should developers promote their startups themselves? What's it like — being a manager of a technological project and helping startupers promote new products? Master's students from the Faculty of Technological Management and Innovations know the answer: for more than half a year, they've been honing their entrepreneurial skills while working on projects from the Future Technologies accelerator. In an interview with our portal, they've shared about this new innovative educational strategy.

Practice-oriented education

Nowadays, more and more technological startups have opened throughout the country, and large companies develop new innovative products. In most cases, authors of these projects are focused on the idea itself, they want to commercialize it, but don't know how to get it done. As a result, an idea that could bring millions to its authors is never really realized.

That is why both fledgling entrepreneurs and large companies need project managers — or, as they sometimes call them, managing partners. Such specialists can work on the economic and marketing aspects of a technological project. Master's students from the Department of Production Management and Technology Transfer learned these skills while working with projects of the Future Technologies startup accelerator. During a special open lecture, they reported their results.

27 students were chosen to work on 10 projects and different internship programs. Each of the students researched a particular problem that had to do with bringing a startup to the market. Their research will later be used as topics for their Master's theses. The students were supervised by lecturers from the Department of Production Management and Technology Transfer and ITMO's other Departments that have to do with innovative activities and development of entrepreneurship. Among them were such experts as Nina Yanykina, Head of the Project Management and Innovation Department, Elena Gavrilova, head of the business incubator, and others.

"This is a unique approach to education. Not only do we teach them theory, but also give them the opportunity to use it right on the spot. For this purpose, we've reworked their schedule in such a way that they have a whole free day for conducting research, during which they are to work on a team project. The students who don't participate in the accelerator's projects train their skills in the other departments of the university that have to do with innovative activities", explained Marina Makarchenko, head of the Department of Production Management and Technology Transfer.

She added that the program's graduates will possess competencies that will allow them to not just work on startups and in large companies, but also become entrepreneurs themselves. What is more, the students will learn to conduct expert evaluation of innovative and technological projects. Many of them already have publications in scientific journals and have the experience of making presentations at conferences.

Collaboration of technical and non-technical specialists

The range of responsibilities of managers of technological projects is quite wide: they look for potential partners, calculate economic efficiency, recoupment, expenses, costs, elaborate new ideas on promoting the product, devise marketing strategies and information support, and sometimes they even have to manage the project’s team.

"To work on different projects, one has to know the market's specifics, and understand the working principles of the invention. Surely, technical specialists have their own way of thinking, but they are always objective. We learn to communicate with them, as they learn how to listen to our opinions", noted Anna Kudryavtseva, a master's student for the department.

According to Elena Feofilova, who works with a team that develops portable accumulators, technical specialists often don't understand who exactly can be interested in their invention. Also, developers often can't calculate the total production costs and make a good presentation of their invention, which are essential aspects of promotion.

"One has to find the approach to the potential customer, and segment the market — these are the tasks of a project manager. Also, a project manager can work on the team's inner structure, if the need arises", added Elena.

According to the head of Department of Production Management and Technology Transfer, modern startupers lack skills in project management. To solve this problem, ITMO opened a new program on project management for technical students.

The students will be able to use the skills they got while working on the Future Technologies startups for managing any other projects, as this way they learn the necessary fundamentals.

"This is a great opportunity to understand what awaits you when you graduate and start working. During this program, we get all the skills necessary for our future work activities. Also, large international companies often ask job applicants to complete a pilot project. So, at ITMO university, we get the chance to "rehearse" our future trials", comments Anna Kudryavtseva.

Both students underlined that now, there are many positions for project managers in St. Petersburg, and the pay is quite high. Yet, startupers often don't have the opportunity to recruit project managers, as they don't possess funds for hiring additional employees. Still, this problem can be solved by attracting an investor or by fundraising. Anyways, the demand for qualified project managers is high, conclude the students.

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