Cultural Anthropologists in Innovation

PROVO, Utah – Apr 16, 2021 – When teaching his class ENT 401: Entrepreneurial Innovation to MBA students at the BYU Marriott School of Business, associate professor of entrepreneurship Nile Hatch shares his own method of innovation: developing a deep understanding of others’ needs. With both management and engineering students in the class, Hatch also encourages his students to combine their strengths in teams and support one another’s needs.

Hatch joined the entrepreneurship program faculty when the program first started at the BYU Marriott in 2007. He teaches classes in innovation, entrepreneurship, and the economics of strategy. His research primarily focuses on using innovation as a process to identify the unfulfilled needs of customers.

Uncovering these needs begins with building relationships with target consumers. “I’ve developed my own innovation process that I teach my students, but the process doesn’t start with innovation—the process starts with identifying people who you care about and spending time with them,” he says. “I urge my students to first strive to understand the needs of these people, then validate their needs, and finally build solutions for those needs.”

In Hatch’s own experience, this innovation process brings about the most success. “What’s wonderful about going through this innovation process together as class members is we’re not taking a premade solution and looking for a business or problem that fits that solution,” he says. “We’re cultural anthropologists in our way of looking for problems, and we’re innovators looking for solutions to existing problems. I teach my students that becoming personally involved with their potential consumers will ultimately bring the most success.”

Hatch appreciates both the skills and expanded vision that his graduate students bring to the table, as well as their eagerness to dive into the innovation process. “The strength of the MBA students is their business experience, whether they are an engineer working in engineering or in business working for a company,” he explains. “When they come back to get their MBA, they have a vision of what matters most in a business, so they’re willing to learn and apply the things they learn.”

In addition to teaching a unique way to innovate, ENT 401 is also different because it typically includes both MBA and engineering students, partially due to BYU Marriott’s joint MBA/MS engineering degree program. “I love seeing these two groups of students come together and share their strengths,” says Hatch. “The management students have wonderful business model ideas, but most of them don’t know how to create the technology to support their ideas. The engineering students, on the other hand, work on amazing technologies, but their business models are flawed. Without each other, these students don’t have much chance of succeeding, but together they are incredible.”

This dedicated teamwork is something Hatch admires about his students. “I love working at BYU, primarily because of my students and their shared sense of purpose,” he says. “I feel deeply touched when I watch classmates, who are technically competing with each other for grades, reach out to help struggling students.

“Recently,” Hatch continues, “a former student who took my class contacted me and told me that he had built a successful company. He asked, ‘How can I give back to the program? How can I help?’ Being surrounded by students who truly want to make a difference, even after they leave, is such a blessing, and I’m grateful to be involved with them.”

Nile Hatch
Nile Hatch

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert