Monday, September 21, 2009

Teaching Scientists and Engineers Entrepreneurship

Here's a great article from BusinessWeek, that details Duke University's efforts to integrate concepts in business and entrepreneurship into their science and engineering programs. Many community colleges have centers for and programs in entrepreneurship. While Duke's PhD+ sounds like a great idea, I think teaching entrepreneurship is something we should be doing at every level (two-year, four-year, masters, PhD, and maybe even HS) and in every program. Imagine architects, interior designers, programmers, network administrators, writing, journalism - virtually any discipline - to setup their own virtual shop to market and sell their services.

Turning Research into Inventions and Jobs
Another hindrance to commercialization of science: Very few scientists are equipped to go into business. They do not know the difference between an S Corp and an LLC. They don't know how to navigate a state or local permitting bureaucracy. And few have a clue about marketing or managing company finances in a way that could withstand an intense audit.

These mismatches ensure that stunning amounts of stellar science remains tucked in the lab forever.

If we want to create jobs, we must first train scientists how to start companies. Tom Katsouleas, dean of Duke University's engineering school, has a potential solution, called PhD+. For PhDs who wish to start companies and have marketable technologies, Katsouleas proposes that the federal government provide funding for training in entrepreneurship to teach the lab geeks how to get along better in the startup world.

The program offered by Duke goes even further than training and education in business, but also provides an incubator, seed funding, lab space, as well as connections to venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs.
Here's how PhD+ would work. Marketing, finance, HR, and product development would all be taught to chemists, physicists, and computer science students and professors enrolled in the program. Scientists who successfully run a gauntlet of these courses would then graduate into an incubator program that matches them with successful company founders or senior executives in their field as well as top-notch providers of the professional services required to launch a science-based company. The scientists would also get a nominal amount of seed funding as well as lab space and other basic ingredients to help them achieve critical mass and bring their concept close enough to product stage to interest venture capitalists or angel investors.

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