Grant Support Encourages Entrepreneurship at Fairfield’s School of Engineering

Grant Support Encourages Entrepreneurship at Fairfield’s School of Engineering

Professor Douglas Lyon, PhD, PE

Professor Douglas Lyon, PhD, PE teaches the graduate course "Engineering Entrepreneurship" at Fairfield's School of Engineering.

CTNext, Connecticut’s go-to resource for entrepreneurial support, has awarded a total of $20,000 in grants to fund Fairfield student initiatives launched in the “Engineering Entrepreneurship” class taught by Professor Douglas Lyon, PhD, PE.

Electrical, computer, and systems engineering professor Douglas Lyon, PhD, PE believes in the importance of having a viable prototype – in addition to a business plan – when pitching a startup idea to potential investors. "A working prototype removes some of the execution risk and exponentially adds value to a new venture," he explained.

One of the places Dr. Lyon turns to when helping graduate students enrolled in his “Engineering Entrepreneurship” class fund the creation of prototypes for their business ideas is CTNext,  which describes itself as “a quasi-public subsidiary of Connecticut Innovations” that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship within the Nutmeg State.

Since CTNext began its Higher Education Innovation and Entrepreneurship Grant Program in 2018, Dr. Lyon has been awarded $20,000 in grants to help School of Engineering students create prototypes and launch their entrepreneurial projects.

Last month, CTNext awarded its latest $5,000 grant to a group of Dr. Lyon’s students for their cybersecurity penetration device, the “RF PenTester.” Dr. Lyon described the product as a USB key that plugs into a computer overnight and alerts the user to system vulnerabilities. “The device pretends to be a keyboard,” said Dr. Lyon, “because computers tend to trust those.” He stressed the value of the “RF PenTester” for what is known in the cybersecurity industry as “white hat” or ethical hacking, as opposed to “black hat” hacking, in which criminals break into computer systems to steal information or cause damage.

In prior years, Dr. Lyon has secured $5,000 grants to fund student projects that include: a technique for fabricating passive power collection using fractal antennas, a low-latency wireless joystick for an ’80s-style arcade console, and a sonar-based navigation device for the blind that uses audio feedback, called “RangerHat.”

Whether pitching a business plan in a startup competition or bringing a new product to the marketplace, Dr. Lyon stressed that judges and investors like to see prototypes, “because in addition to removing execution risk from the endeavor, it shows commitment on behalf of the team.” Many of the new products developed in his course have gone on to become Kickstarter campaigns.

With a focus on the commercialization of innovation, Dr. Lyon said his “Engineering Entrepreneurship” course teaches engineers not just to be employable, but “trains them to be employers.” The class offers mentorship, a collaborative environment, and a hands-on experiential forum for students to navigate both the successes and failures of starting an early stage company.

For more information about CTNext’s Higher Education Initiatives program, please visit

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