UCI Beall Applied Innovation recently hosted the inaugural From Bench to Business: Faculty Experiences event – part of a new, entrepreneurial speaker series – at the Cove @ UCI Beall Applied Innovation.
Created to shed light on faculty entrepreneurship through the eyes of fellow faculty members, the event featured professors who have taken steps to personally guide their research from the lab to the public through translation – the process of translating research findings into practice, policy or further research – and commercialization.
The panel included Kyriacos Athanasiou, Elliot Botvinick and Michelle Khine of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and Weian Zhao of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Each of these accomplished professors took advantage of the resources available through Applied Innovation to balance their academic and entrepreneurial careers.
Matt Hanson, director of new ventures at Applied Innovation, moderated the event, and asked panelists to share their successes, struggles and insights and how research translation and commercialization has impacted their careers.
“It helped me realize real-world problems,” said Zhao, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences and biomedical engineering and founder of two startups. “Oftentimes in academia, we tend to imagine a problem and try to solve it … when we take that to the market, we realize it was not the real problem. By taking this commercialization pathway, we start to realize the real problem in the field.”
Khine, founder of six startups, echoed Zhao’s sentiments.
“If it doesn’t impact a lot of people, that’s not something I want to work on right now,” said Khine. “I want to work on problems that will impact a lot of people and that are really big medical problems. It has shaped the way I look at research and the way I look at problems because I want to make an impact.”
Botvinick, inventor of three rapid detection medical devices, described himself as having been so inspired that he has plans to create centers that will fund the next big idea, which might otherwise die out from lack of funding.
“I want to find an unmet need, someone with a great idea … and I just want to say, ‘Come to UCI. Here’s $200,000 and all the support of UCI Beall Applied Innovation,’” said Botvinick. “That is how much translation activity has affected my career.”
Other panelists spoke of the synergy between academic research and entrepreneurial activities and how they feed one another.
Athanasiou, distinguished professor and president of Wayfinder startup Cartilage Inc., shared that when writing grant proposals, by clearly defining the research’s commercial potential to the grant reviewer – regardless of the intent to commercialize – the reviewer can better understand the research potential. This tactic has allowed his team to receive more grants as a result.
Faculty entrepreneurship is very much a viable option due, in part, to the support of UCI and the programs and services offered through Applied Innovation.