Understanding the potential of your research outside of the lab is something that can often go unnoticed. Through the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Supplemental Training for Education Program (STEP) and the National Superfund Research Program (SRP), I received the opportunity to participate in the University of California, Davis, 2014 Biomedical and Engineering Entrepreneurship Academy (BMEA). This 3-day intensive program, aimed at realizing the value of ideas and research outside of the lab, provided valuable lessons that will benefit my current research and future career goals.
The BMEA is a series of workshops and presentations for potential entrepreneurs in the biomedical and engineering fields that introduces aspects of innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization. More importantly, it provides the opportunity to network with peers and mentors in the biotechnology industry. My own dissertation research at Michigan State University involving the development of a histopathological image analysis tool highlighted the possibility of moving my ideas outside of the lab to reduce the time and cost of nonclinical histological assessments using computational approaches and cloud resources. This spurred my interest in exploring the commercialization potential of this idea and attending this unique workshop.
The program began with a challenge to create a free-standing structure using spaghetti, tape, and string that had to support a marshmallow. The objective was to build a structure as tall as possible within 18 minutes working in small groups. Although seemingly simple, it provided a worthwhile lesson: the value of acting on ideas and continuously evaluating your assumptions regarding a project. In addition, with any new venture there is uncertainty, and for innovation to succeed, these assumptions should be re-evaluated early and regularly.
This set the tone for the rest of the workshop that covered topics that included identifying the problem, describing the value proposition, understanding intellectual property, and effectively communicating your innovation using “elevator pitches” and slide decks. Each topic addressed uncertainties associated with new ventures and approaches to reduce them. Every day included presentations from successful entrepreneurs candidly talking about their successes as well as failures and lessons learned from these experiences. The highlight was evening sessions with the opportunity to pitch ideas and discuss them with experienced mentors who included investors and industry guests. These opportunities for feedback and networking would have been difficult to have outside of the program.
In summary, the UC Davis BMEA was an exceptional career development experience. It provided clear directions for the following year as I continue to pursue the broader commercial impact of my research and more specifically, addressing the uncertainties associated with moving basic/applied research into commercial and regulatory environments. Furthermore, BMEA was a unique opportunity to build a network of colleagues and mentors who will be an invaluable resource in my future career endeavors.