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Scientists, MBAs Get Down to Business in New Program

March 14, 2005

Science means business in a new program at the University of California, Davis.

Nine doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars are working with Master of Business Administration students to develop the skills to commercialize research through a new certificate program in business development.

The one-year program is offered by the Graduate School of Management in collaboration with the campus research office's Technology and Industry Alliances.

Andrew Hargadon, director of technology management programs for the management school, says the scientists are learning how to translate their research into viable products for investment and the competitive market. The MBA students, meanwhile, are learning to work with the complexities and uncertainties of actual research.

And along the way, the university is furthering it efforts to develop an entrepreneurial culture. "The program is the best thing we have going in entrepreneurship at UC Davis," venture capitalist Scott Lenet said of the program he is helping teach.

For successfully completing two practicums and three courses -- on managing innovation, managing technology, and new and small ventures -- the scientists will receive a certificate in business development. The MBA students earn academic credits toward their degree.

Preparation for startups, industry

The program is designed to prepare its graduates to successfully license research, start new ventures, or work in corporate research and development.

Student Kara Schmelzer has been busy in the science lab investigating the biological effects of new anti-inflammatory drugs and testing the durability of a new formula for ship paint. But now she's getting down to business to help both research ventures succeed in the marketplace.

"I really want to understand how the business and science intersect," said the doctoral candidate in pharmacology and toxicology. "I would love to work with business people, know how to understand their language and get the product to market."

The other scientists in the inaugural class are from a variety of disciplines and campus units including electrical engineering, biochemistry and molecular biology, the Center for Biostabilization, veterinary medicine, the Institute of Transportation Studies, computer science and genetics.

Some students want to start their own ventures. Others want to work in industry. Their current research and business aspirations include designing specialized microelectronic circuits for telecommunication devices, developing cancer therapies and other health care products, bringing freeze-dried blood to market for long-term storage by blood banks, and helping reduce the costs of using hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

About 25 MBA students are participating in the winter practicum.

Lots of good ideas

Working in small teams, the scientists and MBA students study business design and development, quickly model and evaluate new ventures -- pursuing the most promising -- and write business plans. They have considered business models for their proposals, talked to potential customers and prepared "elevator" or brief pitches for funding.

The students' own ideas are on the table, and the university's Technology Transfer Center has contributed about 35 others from UC Davis research.

"What we're seeing is a lot of creativity and a lot of ingenuity in a very short time," said David McGee. Co-teaching a practicum this quarter, he is the executive director of the center and business development for the research office.

Venture capitalist Lenet of DFJ Frontier has his own way of indicating that he likes what he is seeing. When he evaluates the students' presentations, he sometimes adds an "I" with a circle around it.

"That means I think this is a good idea, and I want to know more," he said. "These are ideas that could be funded by venture capitalists or make the world a better place."

In the spring quarter practicum, students will choose one idea to pursue. "They'll be really going about all the early-stage activities to get a company off the ground," said Lenet.

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