The University of Minnesota has launched a new program aimed at helping science and engineering students and researchers identify the commercial potential of their discoveries and test those ideas in the marketplace.
Named Minnesota Innovation Corps (MIN-Corps), the program seeks to bolster the university’s entrepreneurship infrastructure and accelerate the development of new technologies that grow businesses, fuel the economy and create better trained talent.
MIN-Corps is an interdisciplinary initiative led by three university partners: the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship (part of the Carlson School of Management), the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) and the Office for Technology Commercialization (OTC).
MIN-Corps represents a new, coordinated effort designed to take the mystery out of technology commercialization by helping students and researchers learn to navigate the process and gain access to the resources they need to successfully develop and market their ideas.
“The MIN-Corps program creates more unified engagement across the university’s business, technical and commercialization programs in order to help our students take advantage of our combined resources and knowledge,” said Mostafa Kaveh, electrical and computer engineering professor and CSE’s associate dean for research and planning. “While each of our groups has a unique focus, we share a common goal of advancing U of M innovation, developing the next generation of innovation leaders and testing the commercial potential of new ideas and IP.”
MIN-Corps’ newest component is a hands-on development experience called STARTUP, a 14-week course offered through the Holmes Center to students at all levels. The course makes use of the Lean LaunchPad curriculum developed by Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank, who teaches at Stanford and UC Berkeley. The curriculum provides a unique platform for entrepreneurial training that reduces risk and enhances rewards.
The STARTUP course is designed to help students evaluate the commercial potential of their ideas by engaging directly with potential customers. Class participants work in small teams and are assigned industry mentors who help teams to identify resources and refine their business models. Teams can receive up to $3,000 in seed funding to help develop their prototypes and test their ideas.
MIN-Corps will build upon a U of M platform of innovation and entrepreneurship that support university researchers with technology commercialization and business development, such as startup seminars, an entrepreneurial leave program, and technology management courses and seminars aimed at accelerating the translation of research to commercial ventures.
Another U-sponsored program is the Minnesota Cup, an annual competition for entrepreneurs that has historically provided both a platform and springboard for U of M innovation. Last year, Nathan Conner, a second-year MBA student at the U was the $10,000 student division winner and won an additional $1,000 for being the audience’s choice with his ShedBed, a bed that uses electricity to collect pet hair. Conner initially developed his idea in the STARTUP course, as have four other Minnesota Cup finalists.
MIN-Corps is part of a larger national trend to boost education in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields and promote university-based entrepreneurship. Programs like MIN-Corps provide alternatives to traditional business degree programs by offering applied business and innovation management courses to science and technology majors as an important complement to their technical expertise.
“Students often go into the sciences because they know that the knowledge and skills they gain will prepare them for advanced degrees and good careers,” said John Stavig, Holmes Center professional director. “But once students recognize the commercial potential of their ideas, they get really excited about the possibility of bringing them to life. MIN-Corps and its related programs help guide and mentor STEM students with entrepreneurial aspirations to broaden their business knowledge and personal leadership abilities. We are excited to harness the enthusiasm and budding expertise of our students to help them realize that not only are they learning about business, but that they might potentially grow their own businesses.”
The U of M has 23,000 students and 2,500 faculty in STEM programs. In 2013, there were 331 new inventions disclosed, 148 new patent filings and 14 startup companies launched. All three of these metrics are record highs for the university, indicating strong upward trends in both innovation and technology commercialization.
“We are surrounded by amazing talent at the U, with new invention disclosures being filed every day,” said Russ Straate, associate director of OTC’s Venture Center. “We are constantly looking for new ways to tap into and maximize this pipeline, but researchers don’t necessarily have the business experience, contacts or resources to develop those ideas into marketable products. This program is meant to help our students and faculty make the necessary connections and to fill in those gaps.”
Reprinted with permission from Business @ U of M, a publication of the Office of the Vice President for Research.