The Forks in the Road

If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
—Yogi Berra

In the commercialization of university research, it’s important to recognize that not every research project becomes a new venture—nor should it. For every research project, there is a range of possible outcomes. This range is often lost when federal commercialization policies, universities technology transfer offices, and enterpreneurship programs focus too much on the number of startups launched or the amount of licensing revenue received in a given year.

Continue reading

Business Development Certificate Program for Scientists and Engineers

Business Development Certificate Program
September 2010–June 2011

Designed for science + engineering Ph.D. students + postdocs who want to learn how to move ideas out of the lab and into the world.

The Business Development Certificate Program is a year-long program for science + engineering Ph.D. students and postdocs who want to develop business skills for a career in industry or explore the commercial opportunities surrounding their research.

Through a combination of coursework, clinics, networking events, and field visits, students gain a first-hand look at the entrepreneurial experience and opportunities available in industry. Fellows participate in five (5) Graduate School of Management courses in technology management, innovation and entrepreneurship, and interdisciplinary clinics under the guidance of faculty, investors, and entrepreneurs.

Why you should apply:

  • learn to communicate the broader potential impact of your research
  • explore commercial opportunities surrounding your technology
  • develop a network of professionals in the business and investment community who can help mentor and connect you as you move forward with your career or new venture.

“I am where I am today because of the amazing, life-changing experience as a Business Development Fellow.” – Riccardo LoCascio, Ph.D., Microbiology, Kauffman Postdoctoral Fellow, Business Development Fellow 2006


Find out more about the Certificate Program at an Information Session:

C4E Innovation Lab, Room 3301, Gallagher Hall, Graduate School of Management
Wednesday, May 5, 12:00–1:00 p.m.
Friday, May 21, 12:00–1:00 p.m.
RSVP to Courtney Miller, Program Manager, 530.754.5960

The Center for Entrepreneurship integrates science and business for social benefit, through innovation and entrepreneurship education and outreach. Since its inception, the center has supported a core set of programs and activities in innovation and entrepreneurship, bringing together scientists and engineers with the Graduate School of Management, business community and outside investors. The Center for Entrepreneurship is a Center of Excellence at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

Cash or Connections, Valley of Death II

On the heels of my post on the Valley of Death, Ben Horowitz of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz posted on Ron Conway
and his network (Ron Conway
) and the value of social capital (connections) more than financial capital (cash) to help startups get off the ground.

Conway is one of the Silicon Valley's uber angels, and I have often spoken about the key role he has attributed to his own social networks when evaluating the potential of new startups. In essence, anyone can invest cash in a new venture, so if cash isn't scarce, the distinctive advantage will go to those new ventures with the best networks connecting them to other future employers, lawyers, investors, and customers. 

In investing, Conway asks: "can my network make this company successful?"

If we're truly interested in understanding and supporting the emergence of new ventures we must recognize the primacy of connections.  As the story Ben related shows, connections are key to finding cash.  In theory, cash can help you find connections, but not always with the right people or for the right reasons.

As public agencies step up their funding of small technology-based businesses, they would be wise to make sure cash isn't their only contribution.  The DOE, SBA and the variety of SBIR/STTR programs that are ramping up funding of university and laboratory research commercialization should match these cash investments with their clout in convening the broad ranging networks in which they sit.

The challenge is in replicating and scaling what Conway does.  Individually, he can manage how everyone behaves in his network (including rewarding good networking behaviors and punishing bad ones). As Ben Horowitz suggests (and I abridge here), Conway is good at this because he has:

• A ridonkulous work ethic—If Ron’s awake, he’s working…
• Pure motives—Ron does what he does, because he likes helping people succeed in business…
• Super human courage—Ron fears no man and he definitely fears no phone call…Ron’s network is always on.
• A way of doing business—This is the unspoken key to Ron’s success…he acts with extreme prejudice when it comes to the proper way to conduct oneself in a relationship.

Try to imagine putting this into a job description. As a formal job the ability to own and manage in this way goes out the window. Instead, there need to be more structural approaches to achieving the same objective. This is the challenge for all of us.

Supporting innovation, not just research

Tom Katsouleas, dean of Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering, has a nice article, How Uncle Sam Can Support Innovation, on the Chronicle of Higher Education website about the need for an investment in translational-research education that is equivalent to the national investment in scientific research (roughly $43B per year).

Don’t mistake equivalence, in this regard, for equal financial investments but rather for investments in creating the capability to bring the fruits of $43B-worth of research all the way to the market.  In our experience, the training and support needed to get ideas moving out of research labs is a fraction of the costs of the original research.

Katsouleas’s point: “For research universities to realize their full potential in tackling global grand challenges and engaging society, revolutionary changes are needed in federal policy, educational programs, and the treatment of intellectual property.”

Perhaps most relevant is how we balance research-discovery efforts with research-translation efforts.  This is not something to be left to technology transfer offices, but rather needs to be taught to the researchers themselves.

Such an education should include performing an impact or market analysis of the student’s field; minicourses tailored to Ph.D.’s in business skills, finance and accounting, science policy, entrepreneurship, etc.; and mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and from faculty members outside the sciences on how their work is informed by and affects society at large. If one out of every five to 10 Ph.D. students were to take on that extra dimension in their training, and if start-up resources were provided for the top 20 percent, the total cost would be on the order of 1 percent of the federal basic research budget. But the multiplier of the benefits to the economy and for society would be far greater.

Obviously, I agree with what Katsouleas calls for, as UC Davis and its partnering sponsors have been providing this training to PhDs and postdocs (and faculty) for the past four years through our Entrepreneurship Academies and one-year Business Development Fellows program.

The Entrepreneurship Academies are 5-day workshops in which researchers learn to identify, develop, and share the commercial potential of their particular research. The curriculum has been developed over 4 years of these workshops, and brings researchers together with venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, IP and new venture law firms, and others in the entrepreneurial networks they will need access to if they decide to move their ideas forward.  The Business Development Fellowships support PhD candidates and Postdocs to spend a year at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, where they take classes on commercialization and work alongside business students to develop university technologies (their own and others).

And Katsouleas is right, every scientist should be exposed to this curriculum because without the active involvement of the researcher there is little hope that their findings will reach beyond the published paper.  This training should not be seen as avarice on the part of universities hoping to cash in on scientific “inventions,” but rather as a commitment to seeing their research efforts through to their ultimate goal: the benefit of our benefactors—society.

CHE Article on teaching entrepreneurship

A brief post to mention an article out now in Chronicle of Higher Education in which I talk about the need to teach entrepreneurship broadly—and what needs to be taught:  

7 Ways to Make Students More Entrepreneurial 

The article is available for non-subscribers for 5 days here, then available to subscribers here

Thinking and doing

One of the central tenets of our Center for Entrepreneurship's programs is that bringing ideas to reality and to the broader market is about effectively combining thinking with doing. Joseph Schumpeter said it well:

To undertake such new things is difficult and constitutes a distinct economic function, first, because they lie outside the routine tasks which everybody understands and secondly, because the environment resists in many ways… This function does not essentially consist in either inventing anything or otherwise creating the conditions which the enterprise exploits. It consists in getting things done [italics added].

Obviously, there is a great deal of "thinking" involved with getting things done, but none of it counts for much without the "doing." Perhaps more importantly, it's not about how well you think before you do but rather how well you integrate the two very different activities so that they support and build on each other. A longer post on this is overdue, but suffice to say there is a need in higher education—and the MBA in particular—for a new focus on "getting things done."

Rick Reis's Tomorrow's Professor email newsletter shared this quote from, and link to, a very apropos essay on the need
for college education to embrace the art and science of doing—not just

"Analytical thinking is an incomplete educational agenda in part because it disconnects rationality from purpose, and academic understanding from practical understanding or judgment. In order to prepare for decision and action in the world, students need to develop not only facility with concepts and critical analysis but also judgment about real situations in all their particularity, ambiguity, uncertainty and complexity. They need to develop practical reasoning."

The essay appears in this month's Carnegie Perspectives, by Senior Scholars Anne Colby and William M. Sullivan write and is adapted from an article with the same title that appeared in the winter 2009 issue of Liberal Education, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Both come from the Carnegie/Jossey-Bass book, A New Agenda for Higher Education: Shaping a Life of the Mind for Practice.

99 Nights

In the movie Cinema Paradiso, there is an allegory told which underpins
the movie.  It also applies, too well, to the process of innovation and

Once upon a time a king gave a feast and there were all the most beautiful princesses of the realm. Basta, one of the guards, saw the king's daughter: she was the loveliest of all! And he immediately fell in love with her. But what could a poor soldier do compared with a king's daughter?!…One day he managed to meet her and told her he couldn't live without her. The princess was so struck by the depth of his feeling that she said to the soldier 'If you will wait a hundred days and a hundred nights beneath my balcony, then in the end I'll be yours.' Christ, the soldier ran off there and waited! One day, two days, ten, twenty…Every night she looked out of her window, but he never budged. Come rain, wind, snow, never budged! The birds shat on him and the bees ate him alive! After ninety nights he was gaunt and pale and tears streamed from his eyes but he couldn't hold them back. He didn't even have the strength to sleep any more. The princess kept watch…And on the ninety-ninth night, the soldier got up, picked up his chair and left!

and towards the end of the film…

Now I understand why the soldier went away just before the end. That's right, just one more night and the princess would have been his. But she, also, could not have kept her promise. And…that would have been terrible, he would have died from it. So instead, for ninety-nine nights at least he had lived with the illusion that she was there waiting for him…

This story resonated with our experiences working
with innovators and entrepreneurs. Particularly following the recent
activities of our students, noted in this blog.

It's all too tempting for innovators and entrepreneurs to labor away on their
dream, all the while ignoring life's (or at least the market's)
realities. Students can imagine, in the safety of case studies and
management readings, that they are preparing themselves to become the
stuff of business legends. Garage tinkerers can sweat over their
lathes, or computers, and imagine how they will spend their
riches and write their memoirs. For these folks, however, there is no
99th night. They are the dreamers without a plan, the tinkerers who've
been at it for 10 years or
more, never taking the steps to turn their ideas into action. It's
safer to believe in the idea of the idea than to take the actions
necessary to find out if it can be turned into a reality.
not arguing against sacrifice–just against unnecessary sacrifice. For
the folks who want more than the dream, waiting until the 99th night to
ask the questions wastes precious time that could have been spent
finding the answers to move the idea forward or move on. If
you want to build a better mousetrap, what can you do on the
first night to make sure the world needs one? If the big uncertainty
lies in the
technology, what can you do, on the first night, to make sure it will
work? In our programs, we ask our students to
test their idea and its validity in the market by talking to customers
and trying to sell them their product. Asking the questions and finding
out early in the process whether a customer sees value in your
technology or product gives you the answers you need to move
forward–whether it means revamping your product to fit the customers'
pain or scrapping it altogether.
written recently about the need to take the right action in
launching new ideas and new companies–because actions ground entrepreneurs
in reality. Action grounds ideas in reality–by testing and improving
them. If you're right, great. If you're wrong, better to embrace that
reality on the 1st night, or even the 30th night, than the 99th.

tempting to sit on a bench and dream of a better world, but better
worlds don't come to those who are unwilling or afraid to put their dreams to the test. They come
to those who are willing to ask the questions and do the work.

*The story is one taken, with liberties, from the Noh play Kayoi
Komachi, which tells how Ono no Komachi finds herself the object of a
Guard Captain's ardent love. To prove his love, she
requested, he was to visit her house one hundred
successive nights before being admitted. For 99 nights, he faithfully
visited her, only to die of exposure from a
snowstorm the last night.  In both cases, the tragedy remains.

–with Nicole Starsinic