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Some graduate degree programs, such as MBA programs, seem to easily lend themselves to entrepreneurship. With others, the idea of becoming an entrepreneur might not seem as immediately obvious. Take, for example, engineering. Most people who take the time to earn an advanced degree in engineering are likely to enter the field in some capacity, but typically that’s assumed to be in a management or leadership role within an existing organization.
It might be surprising, then, to realize that taking engineering classes online can actually prepare you to open and run your own business. In fact, there are a number of different business ideas you could consider with your education and experience in the engineering field.
Engineers are inherently problem solvers, so what better way to put your skills to use than as a consultant? One of the most common fields for engineering consulting is technical consulting, in which you work with businesses to improve their technical capabilities, solve technical problems, or develop or improve existing products or services. A great deal of consulting work involves research, and using data analysis and modeling to develop solutions, as well as assisting clients with implementing these solutions.
In addition to your technical skills, consulting requires excellent communication and analytical skills, as well as the ability to work as a team, listen, and build relationships. Many consultants begin their careers working for an existing consulting firm to gain experience before hanging out their own shingle; the average salary for employed consultants is about $108,000, while self-employed, established consultants can easily earn more than six figures annually.
A consulting business is one of the best small business ideas to start as it can be run from home and started on a low budget. The fact that you can use your previous skills and relationships is also a big plus.
The IoT is big business — to the tune of $300 billion annually by 2020. With nearly everything connected to the Internet, companies (especially startups) are in dire need of experienced engineers with the skills to design the hardware for connected devices. While there will be plenty of opportunities with existing companies, there will also be the need for engineers to work on a contract or project basis for companies developing new technologies or expanding on existing product lines. Hardware engineer salaries average around $105,000 per year.
With the growth of the IoT, the Maker Movement, and other trends in engineering, interest in engineering education and careers is at an all-time high. Consider using your knowledge and skills to help develop the next generation of scientists through teaching or training. Many colleges and universities hire adjuncts and lecturers to teach introductory courses, especially those engineers who are working toward a terminal degree in the field. While the pay isn’t especially high (most adjuncts only earn a few thousand dollars per course per semester), a teaching gig can be a fulfilling side hustle to earn some extra cash while sharing your passion for problem-solving and in-depth knowledge of the field.
If teaching in a traditional classroom isn’t appealing, you can also put your knowledge to work by offering training. Businesses making an investment in advanced equipment or implementing new processes want to be sure that employees can install, operate, and manage the equipment. Technical trainers can bring their expertise to these companies by developing and delivering training programs to help employees develop their own skills to ensure maximum efficiency and productivity. Again, you may begin your training career working with a training company, but with experience, it’s possible to break out on your own.
Finally, technical writing is another viable business idea that can be started part time and from home! Experienced freelance technical writers typically earn about $40 per hour, and are able to pick and choose the projects that they take on. Companies looking for technical writing talent include textbook publishers, technology manufacturers, websites, and more. You must have a love of writing and the ability to communicate complex topics in an easily accessible way, but if you have the skills, you will never run out of work.
These are just a few of the business ideas that an engineer might consider if he or she wants to become an entrepreneur. Other options might include working in logistics, systems and control, procurement, or even legal consultation. The bottom line is to not limit yourself to believing that you must become an engineer but instead forge your own path and put your knowledge to use in a way that fulfills you.
Check out my most popular article, The 300 Best Small Business Ideas. This comprehensive multi-page article offers expert advice on every single business idea. Includes home based, online, steady income, low cost, product and service ideas. Many of the ideas in this long article can be started part time.