Bringing business skills to scientists…

GTEA.jpgHave been busy lately developing a new program aimed at bringing business skills to scientists working in green technology: the Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy.

For the last few years we have been running a set of business development programs that bring doctoral students (and post-docs) from science and engineering over to the business school where they learn how to think and act like entrepreneurs, and how to work with MBAS to turn their research ideas into potential (and real) businesses (Business Development Programs).

We’ve been having a blast doing this–it is essentially a mash-up combining business coursework with a design studio model for prototyping potential new ventures. Students learn how to talk to customers, explore alternative business models, model the finances, learn from these “prototypes” and then cycle through again until they have generated a business they have confidence can work. More on this later.

For now, am happy to see there is a sea change underway–particularly in green/sustainable technologies–around the role of the academic scientist.

Traditional views of science have held that scientists should be insulated from the demands of modern business and government policy–the better to search for knowledge and truth free from the influences of the market. But the cost of being free from the influences of others is the loss of influence over others. Scientists are increasingly finding they have little influence over increasingly critical areas of policy and technological change. There is, in the academy, an increasing recognition that scientists have an obligation to assume more of a leadership role in business if they want to bring about new and sustainable alternatives to current industrial practices.

The AAAS held its annual meeting last week in San Francisco, with the theme of “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being.” AAAS President John P. Holdren set the tone, and reflected this changing rol, when he said:

Challenges such as poverty, climate change and nuclear proliferation pose unprecedented global risks that require scientists and engineers to join with political and business leaders in a concerted search for solutions

And from the business side, Larry Page (co-founder of Google) added his own two bits:

There are lots of people who specialize in marketing, but as far as I can tell, none of them work for you,” Page told researchers at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science late on Friday.

Page’s comments got to the root of the problem. Scientists “need to think that business and entrepreneurship is a good thing.” By not accepting this concept, scientists can too easily avoid taking on the challenging tasks of pushing their research into the market where it can make a difference. The Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy is one way of giving science a voice in the public policy debate and in the direction of technological change. By training tomorrow’s scientists to understand business and entrepreneurship, we can ensure that tomorrow’s science can make a difference.