“A Ph.D. student’s worst fear is that all the work [in research] he/she did over many years will end up as some manuscript in a drawer… and nobody is going to ever care about it again,” said Melissa Li, a Ph.D. candidate in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University. To avoid this discouraging scenario, Li has been seeking to promote the commercialization of her research as a participant in the TI:GER® program housed at the Georgia Tech College of Management.
Since its creation in 2002, the TI:GER® (Technological Innovation: Generation Economic Results) program has assembled and trained teams that each consists of one Ph.D. candidate and two M.B.A. students from Georgia Tech and two J.D. students from Emory University. In the frame of this two-year interdisciplinary program, each team works with a goal of commercializing a Ph.D. student’s innovative research and obtaining legal protection of the product of the research. The program is designed to benefit second or third year Ph.D. students who have a strong interest in business or legal aspects of the product development process and want to acquire entrepreneurial skills.
Li’s research is focused on using microfluidics to make personalized point-of-care devices that diagnose platelet activity in blood. Platelets that tend to clog and form a blockage in the blood vessel prevent the flow of blood and thus, cause heart attacks. During her first semester in the program, her team, Cardiam, examined the current biotechnology market, learning what biomedical companies might be interested in Li’s research and where the big areas of growth for her research could be.
The program provides tools for making a business out of the research product for each TI:GER® team. For instance, Li “had a lecture in how to write a license agreement, and how to get money from venture capitalists.” Besides learning about the commercialization of her research from the courses, she finds her team members to be an excellent resource. The M.B.A. students own “a great deal of knowledge about how to develop your product and whether its profitable in the market, [while] the J.D. students will give you an idea of what a good patentable part of your research idea is.” Li thoroughly enjoys her experience with the TI:GER® as “it gives you appreciation for technical aspects of other people’s work.”
Christopher Lee, also a Ph.D. candidate in the Wallace Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, is part of the TI:GER® team SpherIngenics. His team has won third place in the 2011 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition for its microencapsulation technology for cell-based therapies, specifically using adult stem cells to regenerate tissues that are orthopedic in nature. At the onset of its path to placing in the competition, Lee’s team had to determine the first application of its cell delivery technology and the first target market. After the market analysis, the J.D. students worked on drafting patents for the technology. SpherIngenics is now a start-up company which holds five U.S. patents pending.
The most important aspect about this program is the educational diversity on the team. Lee describes his experience with the TI:GER® as completely different from his prior research environment. For him, “working with two J.D. and two M.B.A. students is entirely different from working with typical researchers or biomedical engineers.” As the diverse educational backgrounds mesh together upon one long-term project, Lee feels that it has been a great experience to work with people with different ways of thinking and different ways of working.
Furthermore, “learning how to present and market [himself] for future jobs” is one important career-oriented skill that Lee took away from his experience with the TI:GER® so far. The program has taught him to talk akin to a businessman’s manner of speaking and helped him adopt a lawyer’s mindset in evaluating his own technology. With all the valuable skills that the program has offered, Lee feels that the TI:GER® has solidified his goal of becoming an entrepreneur. His team SpherIngenics is now in Munich, Germany and consults for a start-up research company who is seeking to expand to the market in the United States.
The TI:GER® program is open to Ph.D. candidates who are highly interested in tailoring themselves towards the development of their research and marketing. For interested applicants, look for the admission application for the program to be released around February.