Bringing Tech To Market

The Rady School brings engineering and business students together to commercialize technology.

Bringing Tech to Market

COMMERCIALIZING NEW UNIVERSITY-BASED technologies can be a challenge because many researchers lack the business acumen to successfully bring ideas to market. To address this issue, the Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California San Diego collaborated in 2016 to launch the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur (IGE), which focuses on training technology leaders and commercializing innovations created by members of the university’s community.

The signature feature of the IGE is the Technology Management and Entrepreneurism Certificate program, a four-quarter program in which engineering graduate students who want to develop their business skills work shoulder-to-shoulder with MBA students on real-world projects to validate concepts, write business plans, and prepare those concepts for commercialization. Rady School faculty and staff are actively involved in the design of the curriculum and the selection of students into the program. Courses are taught by faculty with joint appointments in the schools of engineering and management, as well as by experienced entrepreneurs, investors, and venture capitalists. For the most recent iteration of the program, 90 students applied and 30 were admitted.

Engineering students first attend a business boot camp where they learn the essentials of value creation and capture, technology-driven innovation, teamwork, and venture formation. They follow this with a three-course academic series on assessing and validating market opportunities. During the final two quarters, engineering students team up with MBA students in Lab to Market, the capstone project course of the Rady School. Students form their own teams of three to five people to identify and validate scalable new ideas that can be turned into viable products. Students from the Jacobs School can propose projects from their own research for Lab to Market or join teams of business students who have product ideas but need engineers to help them create prototypes.

A critical part of the certificate program is the successful integration of the business and engineering graduate students. Because they come from very different backgrounds and mindsets, the school has designed events that allow them to socialize and get to know each other. For instance, the Rady School organizes informal “speed-dating” mixers where the MBAs and engineers are brought together.

“First, each student who has a technology or business idea does a brief pitch,” says Vish Krishnan, co-coordinator of the institute and a professor of innovation, technology, and operations at the Rady School. “This is followed by a period of mingling, in which all the presenters talk for a minute to the students who show an interest in their ideas.”

The approach seems to be working: In the program’s first two years, a half-dozen new ventures have been created and have secured nearly US$1 million in nondilutive investment—that is, funding that does not require founders to give up shares of their business. Two companies that have been particularly successful, South 8 Technologies and Ateios, both focus n the next wave of battery technology.

The IGE program also has piqued the interest of donors, whose gifts have enabled the creation of two endowed professorships. The Jacobs Family Chairs in Engineering Management Leadership were awarded to Krishnan and his IGE co-coordinator, Sujit Dey, an electrical and computer engineering professor at the Jacobs School.

In addition to offering the certificate program, the IGE runs two accelerators: a technology accelerator that’s open to faculty, post-doc fellows, and graduate teams from the Jacobs School; and a business accelerator that is open to alumni, faculty, and students at the university. These are in addition to accelerators that operate as part of the Rady School’s California Institute for Innovation and Development (CIID), which is run by Krishnan and Lada Rasochova. For instance, CIID’s StartR is a six-month accelerator open to current students and alumni; mystartupXX is an accelerator focused on enterprises developed by women.

Krishan believes the various pieces of multidisciplinary programming send a profound message. He says, “There is a significant opportunity for business schools to contribute to the rest of the campus in terms of science and technology translation, commercialization, and new venture creation.”