In August 2021, Matías Soto, former teacher and experienced tech startup officer, was appointed as director of the innovation and entrepreneurship at Andrews University. In this role, Soto will be responsible for overseeing innovation efforts at the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, as well as supervising the certificate program.
“As director of the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, my main role will be to help create opportunities and provide resources for students and faculty interested in inventing and commercializing their ideas,” Soto shared. “As an engineer, scientist, and entrepreneur, I can relate to many of the ideas from faculty and students on campus, while at the same time help develop a plan for the idea to become a viable business.”
Prior to joining Andrews University, Soto’s career included numerous entrepreneurial experiences. Soto served as the director of research and development at a cutting tools company in Monterrey, Mexico, and began writing proposals for small-business innovation grants with the Mexican government. After earning his B.S. in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, an M.S. in manufacturing at Tecnológico de Monterrey, and a Ph.D. in materials science and nano-engineering at Rice University, he continued to gain more experience as an entrepreneurship intern at an innovation studio before becoming chief technology officer of a startup in Houston, Texas, developing materials and construction technology. Additionally, he began his own consulting company, Covalent Innovation, which focused on helping other startups and entrepreneurs develop their technology.
“Every time we bring someone new into the Andrews family, it gives us an opportunity to see things in new and exciting ways,” said Micheal Nixon, vice president of Andrews University Culture & Inclusion. “Not only is Matías well credentialed and experienced within the area of innovation, but he is a deeply committed man of God. While the contents of his resume truly jump off the page, what makes Matías special is the human that he is and the way that he has allowed God to use him in new and unconventional ways for the furtherance of His kingdom.”
The Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship will create and provide resources and spaces — for example, an innovation lab — for students and faculty to actively pursue research and development projects, curriculum interests and self-start projects, and interact with businesses and industries who could offer internships and work opportunities. It will not only provide opportunities for students to discover design thinking and methodologies for creating new ideas in all discipline areas, but will also encourage action and implementation of those ideas.
Additionally, the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship will also host and manage innovation projects that go beyond the scope of a capstone or senior design course. Undergraduate and graduate students will participate in these projects as Interns and Fellows. They will conduct all their activities using on-campus resources and spaces. These projects will be sponsored by industry partners or independent entrepreneurs.
In addition to those resources, students may also take advantage of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Certificate (I&E Certificate). Students interested in earning the certificate will complete a 15-credit sequence that shapes and polishes their capacity for innovation and entrepreneurship through engagement in advanced projects and ancillary coursework. Additionally, students can take one or more of the courses in the certificate as electives for their majors.
An introductory course that students will take during the initial stages of the certificate program, INEN 221, focuses on developing skills needed for creativity, innovation, problem solving and entrepreneurship. Students engage in developing new ideas with like-minded people. They also create a project proposal that demonstrates “spark” suitable for continued development during the other courses in the certificate. Upon completion of this course, students will implement design thinking principles and develop innovative and viable solution-based models.
The I&E Certificate program is available to any major and can be completed in four to nine semesters. Completion involves a capstone course in which students create a practical implementation of a project or launch of a business.
“I believe a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship brings not only good experiences for students but also empowers them to be agents of change,” said Soto. “At Andrews University, we want our graduates to become World Changers, regardless of their degree, and innovation and entrepreneurship tools will help them be better equipped to do so.”
“Our lives involve innovation at almost every turn,” said Nixon. “Seeing problems and finding new, efficient and collaborative ways towards solutions is one of the hallmarks of what we believe innovation to be. We see innovation as one of the key drivers of our institutional mission and we are hoping, under the leadership of Matías, that we will begin to ingrain the key concepts and principles of innovation in our campus culture.”
For more information on the Office for Innovation & Entrepreneurship and to join the email list for updates, visit the website at andrews.edu/innovation. Additionally, follow the Andrews University Innovation & Entrepreneurship Facebook page at facebook.com/AUInnovation and on Instagram at instagram.com/auinnovation.
— Moriah McDonald is an Andrews University Communication student writer.