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Cultivating an Entrepreneurial Mindset to Help Take Research from Lab to Market

Entrepreneurs work together at a table at a SUNY ZAP event.

The life of a researcher is complex. Study, testing, analyzing, and so much more, and that’s just to make the new idea into a project that works. But after that is complete, many want to bring their new ideas to market in hopes of earning some rewards for their hard work. They just often don’t have the mindset of a business person to get them there. SUNY is hard at work finding ways to help bridge these two disciplines.

Recently, eight research teams, joined by faculty, students, and staff from ten campuses across The State University of New York system successfully completed SUNY ZAP!, a best-in-class training program for those who want to move their research from lab to marketplace.

Presented by The Research Foundation for SUNY (RF) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Innovation Node-Los Angeles (IN-LA), the SUNY ZAP! curriculum provides scientists and engineers with information on how to think like entrepreneurs.

During the two-week program, SUNY ZAP! introduced participants to the lean startup I-Corps methodology, a special, accelerated version of Stanford University’s Lean LaunchPad course with additional elements, which is being adopted by a growing number of universities and built into federal funding agency programs.

Discussion and exercises focused on the questions: what is the invention, who is it for, and why should we care? Participants learned to challenge their assumptions, look beyond academia for market information, and talk to potential users in person. The teams used these skills to create hypotheses and draft business plans for their startups.

“SUNY ZAP! is a platform for researchers and inventors to form entrepreneurial teams, focus on the needs of customers, learn from market realities, and validate business strategy. We are thrilled to be collaborating with the best-in-class instructors of IN-LA to develop entrepreneurial talent and grow the New York state innovation economy,” said Heather Hage, RF Vice President, Industry and External Affairs.

“The most important thing we learned was to get out of the building — that is to gather information in person from similar businesses and potential customers,” said Ahmed Hussein, a doctoral candidate working on the University at Albany Internet of Lights team. Added University at Albany Assistant Professor Hany Elgala, “SUNY ZAP! taught us how to present our idea in a focused and non-technical way. We will keep working on this and look forward to moving on to BOOM.” Elgala is the academic lead for the Internet of Lights team, which aims to improve wireless connectivity by transmitting data through light fixtures.

“My primary takeaway from SUNY ZAP! is defining value from the customer’s perspective,” said Martin Arellano, an entrepreneur working on the NeuralNet, Inc. team based at Stony Brook University’s Long Island High Tech Incubator. “You can’t assume that they see things the same way you do.” The NeuralNet, Inc. team invented a sensory system for the electric grid.

“The IN-LA team is excited to support the world-class research in the SUNY system. We are looking forward to helping the SUNY team generate even more impact from their transformational science,” said Andrea Belz, vice dean of technology innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering and IN-LA director. “It is also a great opportunity to expand and build upon the IN-LA collaboration.”

Graduates of the SUNY ZAP! Program are eligible to enroll in the advanced BOOM course. Teams that complete BOOM qualify to apply for the $50,000 National I-Corps team grant.

    The Research Foundation

      Written by The Research Foundation

      The Research Foundation works with the academic and business leadership of campuses to support research and discovery at SUNY through the administration of sponsored projects and adept transfer and sharing of intellectual property for public benefit and economic growth.

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