The Lab to Market Transition: Lessons from Faculty, Students, and Research Staff

In February, the Office of Research hosted an event called The Lab to Market Transition: Lessons from Faculty, Students, and Other Research Staff. The event highlighted scenarios in which post grads spun out companies with the technology they worked on in their PI’s lab. We had four spinout guests, at different stages of maturity, with different levels of involvement by the PI. We explored the dynamics between post grad and PI, and the differences between academic and entrepreneurial (business) challenges. Each spinout made a presentation and then we engaged in a Q&A. Following are a few of the takeaways that bubbled to the top in the course of the hour.

Post Grad: Time to take risk
When one is leaving the university upon earning a PhD, it’s a good time to try entrepreneurship: there’s not a lot at risk. Second, none of the post grads were interested in either becoming a professor or taking a corporate job.

Roles are not defined at the early stage
When asked about titles and roles, the teams said they’d broached the topic but no decisions had been made, that these were ongoing topics to be revisited as the idea and company evolved. It was also clear that some PIs are going to be more engaged in the startup than others due to interest and time, so no pattern emerged; there’s no cookie-cutter answer.

Doctoral training is useful for entrepreneurship
Although the nature of the problems one is solving as an entrepreneur are different from academia, one’s post grad experience teaches how to solve problems. Second, the way one finds market need is using the scientific method, a skill all post grads know well.

You have to have a need
Success for a new invention is not going to be a function of the technology; a new company has to be addressing a real need. NSF’s I-Corps offers training to identify that need.

Perseverance is important
One has to keep digging and digging to find that market need; it’s an ongoing effort. Perseverance also showed itself in applying for grants, challenges, and competitions. One has to keep at it; it’s a ‘shots on goal’ type of effort. The most advanced of the teams’ message was that having a second person to share the burden on the journey is vital.

Image of Rana GuptaThe Journey to Impact is a monthly blog featuring insights from Rana K. Gupta, Director of Faculty Entrepreneurship at Boston University. He helps BU researchers bring technology and other research breakthroughs to the marketplace to increase their impact through programs and workshops, one-on-one consulting with faculty, educational resources, and community building among BU innovators.

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