Imagine you’ve received your master’s degree in electrical engineering, biochemistry or another area of science and technology. Through research you’ve envisioned groundbreaking uses for electro-magnetism, deep ultraviolet optics, high-resolution wireless communications or marker genes. How do you take these ideas from the lab to the outside world?
Recently, nine science and engineering graduate students from Japan visited San Diego to learn just that: how to bridge the gap between innovative, academic research-based concepts and real-world, marketable technology products.
UC San Diego Extension’s Global CONNECT, in partnership with the university’s William J. von Liebig Entrepreneurism Center at the Jacobs School of Engineering, hosted this two-week experience, dubbed the Osaka University Technology Commercialization Training Program.
The program is part of Japan’s larger effort to encourage and support startups and entrepreneurism, with grants to Osaka University helping fund it. For UC San Diego Extension, the Global CONNECT program is central to its mission of providing critical skill development in evolving fields while connecting the university’s cutting-edge research to communities both locally and around the globe.
These two-week sessions will occur about every six months for the next 18 months, with the next session slated to start in February 2016.
The fall 2015 program ran October 26 through November 5. The primary mission? To experience an accelerated process of preparing and presenting investor-attractive and viable technology products.
“One of our main goals is to change the mindset of the students by making them more open to entrepreneurial thinking,” said Nathan Owens, director of Global CONNECT, who helps coordinate the program. “It gives them tools to pursue a career in industry and not just academia. They might also become better researchers by thinking about different approaches to developing their technology.”
Over the course of the program, students were mentored by innovators who are part of the von Liebig Center’s advisor pool. The program also included sessions on human-centered design from the Carlsbad-based DD Studio as well as guest speakers and site visits with companies such as Grolltex, Ascenda Law, the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator, Tanabe Research, Sony Computer Entertainment America, and CONNECT, as well as UC San Diego spinoff companies Whova, Grolltex, Planet3 and Tortuga Logic.
Sessions emphasized hands-on exercises and covered topics such as sizing a market, interviewing potential customers, understanding intellectual property issues, examining competition, and how to approach possible investors.
“These engineers have been trained to deal with technical challenges — not to think about their technologies in a business sense,” said Owens. “This is an opportunity for them to learn to communicate a potential business product, providing a clear problem statement and value proposition to a defined target customer.”
The program concluded with the students “pitching” their business idea to a panel of experienced angel investors who provided valuable feedback on what was compelling and what may need more work when they return to Japan.
“It was very tough but fruitful experience for us,” said Professor Masayuki Abe, who also attended the spring 2015 program. “Osaka University has the largest number of students (about 22,000) in my country, but unfortunately we do not have organized entrepreneur programs for students and researchers.”
“Support for engineering commercialization and startup business is wonderful at UC San Diego,” said Kazuki Yokoi, a participant in the program. “I look forward to Japan’s universities arranging a similar environment.”
Learn more about this and other programs at the Global CONNECT website.