Center of Excellence for Innovation Engineering

Our partnership with the College of Engineering at Bucknell University.


Bucknell’s SBDC is recognized as a statewide Center of Excellence for Innovation Engineering by the Pennsylvania Small Business Development Centers.

COE Innovation Engineering Badge

Bucknell’s SBDC provides specialized innovation, engineering, and concept development services to small businesses in partnership with Bucknell’s College of Engineering. We have access to resources and technology such as computer-aided design (CAD) software, engineering laboratories and 3D printing.

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Contact the SBDC that serves your county in Pennsylvania, and a business consultant will assist you in assessing the market for your product, work with you as you develop a plan for your business, and guide you through our Referral Form.

Your consultant may then refer you to our engineering development services, where we can help you think about next steps on your development journey that may include Bucknell engineering faculty, staff, students and class projects.

Explore below some of the services the Bucknell SBDC offers to innovative small businesses.

Product Development

Conducting product development in formalized stages provides direction, minimizes waste and increases the chances that the product will be well-received by the market.

We endorse an approach that starts and finishes with the customer. It is tempting to focus product development on the technology. This can be especially true if people with a technical background are leading the project. A technology-driven approach can lead to a solution looking for a problem. Instead we recommend that the process begins with a deep understanding of the customer’s situation. In addition we suggest that every effort is made to incorporate the customer into the development process, checking in with them at every change in the path or significant milestone.

Engineering has a place in many of the following phases, but only in step with the other disciplines, and never without a firm grip on what the customer cares about.

Understand Your Customer

Begin with the customer. What problems are they facing? How can we help them? What is that help worth to them? Do not move onto the next stage without a very clear picture of the ‘job to be done’ or the customer’s ‘problem to solve.’


  • Observe the customer and/or user. Sometimes the person making the buying decision is someone other than the person using the product or service and they have different needs — so talk to both of them. What people do and what they say they do are often different. Listen, but observe too.
  • Read their social media posts.


Emile Chartier said that nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when it is the only one we have.

More and different ideas are better than few and similar. Teams that feature a lot of possible players will beat a team chosen from a few players. Similarly, the concept chosen from a group of many different ideas will almost always be better than the concept developed from a single idea. Get ideas from everyone involved, even if they don’t think their idea has merit.

Make the ideas you choose different from each other so all sides of a problem can be explored.


If you have an idea that came to you in a dream, you may think you are at the stage at which you should start. Please don’t. Go back to the customer. Make sure the problem is really what you think it is.

This is the stage to:

  • Make it better. You think it is good, but put more detail in and reassess.
  • Build it to scale. Does your customer understand how big it is?
  • Does it fit the hand, the head or the foot, as it should?
  • Resolve contradictions such as a high-volume product with a low tooling budget, or a low-cost product with a lot of features.
  • Combine two good ideas to make one great one.


Prototypes can be used as tools in each of the previous stages, but they are most widely used as a means to test the assumptions and decisions after the refinement phase. All stakeholders should be exposed as deeply as possible to prototypes at this stage. If it is a product that the user sits in, they should be able to to do that.

The goal of a prototype is to ‘make it real’ in whatever way works. ‘Real’ might mean a VR experience, painted cardboard, materials from the lumber store, a mocked-up user interface or a full-scale printed image stuck on plywood. Whatever gives the user an experience that models the final product.


As you test your prototype, ask yourself:

  1. How do key stakeholders feel about the mockup/prototype scale models?
  2. What are customers willing to pay for what you offer?
  3. What will this product or service replace?
  4. What are they willing to give up to get this?
  5. Has the estimated cost changed? Can it actually be manufactured as you believe?


We have answers to some of the most commonly asked questions we receive at Engineering Development Services, part of the Bucknell Small Business Development Center.

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