Info for Sponsors

Welcome to the New Product Design and Business Development (NPDBD) program. The NPDBD faculty hope the experience will be beneficial to your company and will lead to a successful new product launch. The purpose of this document is to provide information about the program and answer many questions you may have about project logistics and administration. For an introduction to the program we suggest you look at the NPDBD overview page, including the video. At the end of the document, you will find a check-list of action items for sponsors to complete before the project begins. Note that program web site ( is the best and most up-to-date place to go for information, including the current version of this document.

Class Organization

NPDBD is a two-semester (nine month) course where most of the students' time is spent developing the new product. Project work is accompanied by a series of lectures covering the basics of new product design and business development in the context of the projects. The class meets every Wednesday evening. The first part of every class is a didactic lecture on new product development basics. The second part is a student team meeting. In addition, students and their faculty coach meet weekly. Meetings with clients are arranged based on clients' preferences.

Project Dates

The project starts mid-September and finishes the second week of May. Before the projects start in September, we focus on building teams and introducing the product development process.

Work Locations

Weekly team meetings take place at the University, although occasional meetings at the company may be scheduled as needed. Engineering prototype development is shared between University and company locations in whatever way is most convenient. Although the University is well-equipped with shops and design facilities, it does not have sufficient secure laboratory space to accommodate all of the projects.

Milestones and Deliverables


Over the course of a full academic year, the team will execute a comprehensive product innovation process. The May deliverables delivered to the client are a working prototype and a business plan. The project will address market feasibility (who are the customers, what are their needs and does the product concept satisfy their needs), technical feasibility (engineering design, prototyping, and manufacture), and financial feasibility (how much money will the client make on the opportunity). The overall process is

    1. Discover: Understand the context and explore the opportunity space

    2. Define: Define the customer need and state the problem

    3. Create: Create a solution to the need

    4. Deliver: Deliver on the solution

The project starts the second week of September and finishes the first week of May.

Fall Semester: Discovery

    1. Understand the context: Research the disease state, existing solutions, competing products and the relevant technology. Use secondary market research to define market trends.

    2. Discover needs: Conduct customer interviews, develop a needs statement. Initiate a product requirements document.

    3. Ideate: Create one or more concepts that satisfy the need. Execute a rough working prototype of each concept.

    4. Assess: Initial screen for market, technical and financial feasibility.

Spring Semester: Execution

    1. Validate the concept: Gather customer reactions to the concept. Conduct preliminary engineering bench tests of the prototypes. Select the concept to execute.

    2. Develop the concept: Finalize the detailed product requirements. Finalize the detailed engineering design. Fabricate, assemble and bench test an alpha prototype. Gather customer reactions to the prototype. Create a manufacturing plan. Protect the intellectual property.

    3. Develop the business plan: Use the Canvas model to solidify the value proposition, customer segment, distribution channel, cost structure and revenue stream.

    4. Assess: Final screen for market, technical and financial feasibility.

  1. Create the hand-off plan for the client to continue execution.

Project Reviews

Formal project reviews will occur at the end of Fall and Spring semesters, usually during exam week. Approximately 90 minutes are allotted to cover a 45 minute formal presentation by the student members of the team followed by 45 minutes of questions and discussion. We prefer that the project reviews be held at the company in a presentation facility large enough to hold the project team plus other company representatives. We encourage you to publicize the reviews widely within your organization because it not unusual for 15 to 20 company members to attend. A light lunch or other refreshments following the presentation is always welcome. The presentation time, date and place should be scheduled (in consultation with the NPDBD faculty) well in advance. Occasionally, and with your approval, we may wish to invite distinguished guests (for example, a Department Head or Dean) to attend a Project Review. The visitors will sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to attending.


The student team members will deliver an interim project report at the end of Fall Semester, and a final project report at the end of Spring Semester. The reports document the technical and business accomplishments of the team and are in the form of a business plan. If there is information you would like included in the reports or if you wish the reports to be formatted in a particular style, please make your wishes known to the students well in advance.

The Team

"The Team" means students, the faculty coach assigned to the project and the company contact. When we say "the team", it does not mean just the students, although clearly the students will be doing most of the daily work on the project. Thus when decisions are made by the team, that means the company participates because the company is part of the team. This is an important point to remember because it prevents schisms between the company and the University or between the company and the students. No, "us versus them". Everyone is in this together.

Student Team Members

Each team includes five to six students, approximately one half business (MBA) students and one half graduate (MS or PhD) engineering students. On the first day of class, students express their project preferences based on brief, written descriptions provided by the companies (explained below) and discussion with the faculty. The faculty form the project teams based on student preference, balance of engineering/business and student background and skills. We have found that highly motivated teams result from students making their own choices rather than trying to optimize the match of student skills to project needs. Because the students are registered for a 4-credit course, they are each obligated to devote approximately 10 hours per week to the project (including lectures and reading), or approximately 150 hours per semester. The actual workload varies considerably from week to week and tends to be deadline driven. Also, students will generally be unavailable between semesters and during school vacations. The posted schedule has all the details.

Faculty Participation

Each team is assigned a faculty coach. The faculty is part of the core team, will attend most weekly meetings and will participate actively in developing the product. He or she will also be the primary contact between the company and the University on questions of procedure, logistics and project administration. Other faculty may participate in the product development, but at a lower level of involvement.

Company Participation

The project is a joint endeavor between the University of Minnesota and your company and should not be viewed as a project being handed over to the University to work on alone. A successful product will result only if all team members (students, faculty, company liaisons) are active.

Project Leadership

The teams are best described as self-directed work groups. Early on, teams will select among the students a team leader whose job is to ensure the team remains on track. This role may be filled by a different person each month.

The faculty coach and company rep have a delicate role and must tread the fine line between guiding the project in the right direction and micro-managing the students. The faculty coach and company rep must take advantage of their knowledge and expertise to provide team with guidance when required, rather than letting the team flounder. So, don't over or under direct. Provide guidance rather than orders. Lay out the issues, present your ideas, provide your reasoning and let the team make the choices.

Company Rep(s)

The company rep is the primary contact with the company and is a member of the project team. The rep can be from engineering or marketing. The rep is not the team leader, but can provide appropriate direction and guidance to the project from the company perspective. It is useful for the rep attend the weekly whole-team meetings which generally are held at the University, but also could be on an alternating-week basis, at the company. The rep should also be available to the students via phone or email. An important role of the liaison is to serve as a conduit between the students and other people in the company who have access to needed information.

Use of University Resources

The project teams have access to all of the resources normally provided to students at the University including the libraries and academic computing facilities and machine shops. Specialized resources in the Department of Mechanical Engineering include a fully equipped student shop (including a late-model Bridgeport 5-axis CNC mill), a Stratasys 3D printer and many engineering software packages including SolidWorks, Creo, ANSYS and Matlab. Use of research labs by the project hinges on making a connection between the lab director (a University faculty member) and the project. Resources in the Medical Devices Center, the Visible Heart Lab and the research labs of the course faculty are available. Students are also free to contact faculty experts throughout the University for information and advice in a variety of relevant areas.

Confidentiality and Intellectual Property Policy

Please review the standard Confidentiality and Intellectual Property (C & IP) Agreement document and have it verified by your company's legal department. This agreement was developed after substantial negotiations between the University and prior NPDBD program companies and we feel it satisfies the basic needs of the company, students and the University. Modifications are difficult to make since the same agreement must be used for all projects in a given year of the program. Highlights of the agreement are that patent ownership belongs to the company and confidentiality is maintained, although students and faculty are free to publish non-confidential information about the project once it is completed. Any questions about the agreement should be referred to Durfee.

The C & IP agreement is signed by all students and faculty in the course, not just those on your team. This facilitates team interaction and enables the faculty and students to generalize what is being learned from each project. We have found sharing information to be one of the best methods for learning about and improving the product development process. Overall, it is beneficial to the company since you have the benefit of many more students and faculty thinking about your product.

We will generate copies of the C & IP and will have each student and faculty sign two copies. Both copies will be delivered to you for signing by the company, after which you deliver one copy back to us. All of this takes place one or two weeks into the course.

In addition to the C & IP agreement signed by team members, we have a standard non-disclosure agreement which is used for outside guests who wish to attend lectures, team meetings or design reviews where confidential information may be discussed. This is also available on the web site.

Project Choice

The project undertaken by the team must be selected carefully by the company in consultation with the course faculty to provide an appropriate educational experience for the students, to provide benefit to the company and to ensure the maximum chance for success. The general area of the product should be known, but specific product requirements should not be dictated to enable full exploration of market opportunities by the product development team. The project must have a balance of engineering and business challenges.

The products should have significant engineering content - in contrast to clothing, books or paper clips - because skilled student and faculty engineers will be part of the team. The product should come in discrete units - in contrast to food, material or petroleum products - because the latter are typically driven by process control issues. The products should be physical - in contrast to software, information or service products - to take fullest advantage of the talents and skill of the design teams and faculty coaches. Mechanical, electronic or electromechanical products (including those with embedded computers) are particularly good choices as are non-inplantable medical devices.

Given the research interests of the course faculty, many of the products relate to medical technology.

Often, the best choice is a novel product which the sponsor would like to see developed, but is in an area in which the sponsor does not have existing expertise, or is one for which there are insufficient resources to develop the product completely in-house.

To summarize: the project sweet spot is a physical product with interesting business and technical challenges. Products that require basic science research are recommended.

Project Descriptions

By the end of August, please provide a one page (no more) description of the project, which the students can use to make their project choices. The document will be marked "Confidential" and will only be seen by students in the course.

Web Site

Each project will have a secure web site hosted on Google Sites in conjunction with the University of Minnesota. The team can use the site as an intranet for archiving meeting minutes, decisions and other project documents.

Project Fee

Sponsoring companies pay a project fee of $25,000 to offset part of the instructional costs associated with the course. Independent firms with total revenues of under $1 million per year pay a reduced fee of $10,000.

Please identify the company contact contact (name, title, email) to whom we should send the invoice for the course fee. We normally bill one-half of the fee in the fall and one-half in the spring, although other payment schedules can be arranged.

Other Project Costs

In addition to the project fee, the design team will incur project costs to, for example, conduct marketing surveys, hold focus groups, construct prototypes and produce reports. We suggest that the sponsoring company support all expenses associated with these and other activities at the same level as it would if the team were internal. Company resources (such as internal prototyping shops) should also be available for use by the team when appropriate. Also, it can be very beneficial to send one or two of the student team members to an industry trade show relevant to the project. Each time a major cost is anticipated (e.g. for a professionally-run focus group), the team (including company liaisons) should determine if that cost is appropriate. At the start of the project, every team member should have an understanding of the approximate project budget and what resources will be made available to the team. In addition, the University will provide each team with a small discretionary fund out of the course budget to cover expenses which are course, but not project related.

Each team will appoint a treasurer to track project expenses via a check book style register and handle petty cash expenses. You should work out with the treasurer how out-of-pocket expenses will be approved and reimbursed.

Project Kick-Off Meeting

The project will start with a 60 minute kick-off meeting which could be held at the company. This is when the project is formally introduced and the students and core company representatives meet each other. It also provides an opportunity for others in the company who will have peripheral involvement with the project to meet the team members and gain an understanding of the project's purpose, goals and initial strategy. (Therefore, invitations to the kick-off could be sent to all company members who are or might be connected to the project.) Providing refreshments or a light meal will help keep this event upbeat.

The meeting date and time is between you and the students and can be worked out with the faculty coach. The preferred time is Wednesday at 5 or 5:30pm on the day listed on the class schedule. Other times and other days that week are possible. Early morning or late afternoon are better as some students are working.

The kick-off meeting is run by the company with the company rep acting as host. A possible agenda follows:

    • Introductions all around.

    • History and overview of the company. Core strengths of the

    • Project introduction (description, context, market, competitors)

    • Project scope

    • Project purpose

    • Project goals

    • Company expectations

    • Projected budget and company resources available to the project

    • Discussion

It would help to make copies for attendees of any slides used. Because the meeting time is short, a company facility tour is best left for another date, unless it is brief.

Project Information Package

At or just before the project kick-off meeting, it is helpful to provide the student members of the team with a set of resources (web links, PDF documents) related to the project. The purpose is to bring students and faculty coach up to speed as quickly as possible by minimizing the time spent acquiring and assimilating the background necessary for the project to be a success.

The resources might include the following, although use your judgement.

    1. Description of the project

    2. Statement of company expectations for the project.

    3. Annual report or other documents which describe company history, core products and financial position.

    4. Descriptive brochures about the company and its products.

    5. Information about related products made by company and its competitors.

    6. Description of the company product design process (if a formal process exists).

    7. List of competitors in the proposed product area.

    8. Academic or trade journal articles related to the product area.

    9. Background on the disease state (for medical products)

    10. The key patents (yours or competitors) related to the project.

    11. Other information that might be useful to the team.

Student Evaluation

The responsibility for assessing student performance rests with the course faculty, however, it is expected that the company liaison as well as others in the company associated with the project will provide input.

Students receive letter grades at the end of each semester. Grading is based on effort and contribution to the product development process and is assessed by faculty evaluation and anonymous peer reviews by team members. At the end of each semester, the students also provide anonymous evaluations of their sponsoring company (which we will pass along to you) and course faculty.

Realistic Expectations

The main deliverables in May include a working prototype and a business plan. Although the students are expected to perform at a level that will result in substantial benefit to the company, no guarantees can be made. It is important to realize the main purpose of the course is to provide an appropriate educational experience to the student rather than a direct service to the company. If the company needs guaranteed deliverables, a better approach may be to develop the product internally or to contract with an independent market research or product development firm.

Initial goals should be set for the project early in the Fall Semester. From past experience, we know that project direction and goals often change based on information learned from the market or technology development. This is a normal part of the product development process and projects which follow best practices will have the flexibility to change direction without endangering the project mission.


Please contact Professor Will Durfee, University of Minnesota,, 612-625-0099.

Action Item Checklist for Sponsors

Before Project is Approved

    • Discuss project with a NPDBD faculty members. Agree on project scope.

    • Review confidentiality and intellectual property agreement. Transmit any concerns to Durfee. (Note that changes are very difficult to make because the same agreement is used by all projects in the course.)

    • Review fee structure and seek approval for costs from company management. Costs include the project fee ($25K or $10K) and product development costs (prototyping, marketing and reports).

    • Receive verbal commitment from NPDBD faculty and company that project will be undertaken.

After Project is Approved

    • Pick main project contact and send contact info (name, title, email, phone) to Durfee

    • Write a two-paragraph description of project which will be used by students to select among projects. Paragraph one is the background and paragraph two is the project objectives.

    • Schedule and prepare for kick-off meeting.

Last updated September-2022