Skip to main content

Knowing what we don't know: 'Aha' moments in overcoming the valley of death

(Michelle Xu is a PhD-graduate from the University of Toronto, where she worked to engineer diagnostic hand-held devices using nano-grating surface plasmon sensors and nano-pillar photonics crystal sensors to enable the early detection of cancer. Knowing that her device could identify high-risk individuals and help prevent disease, she was motivated to commercialize her research. To support her efforts, Newport and SPIE sponsored her attendance at the Biomedical Engineering Entrepreneurship Acadamy (BMEA) held at the University of California, Davis earlier this month. Below are her reflections on the experience. Her colleague Chang Won will be writing about his experience at the academy next week!)

The number one lesson I learned at the BMEA was that in academia, we start by solving a problem and then search for needs; in business planning, we start with a need, and then solve the problem. This issue of course raises the question, “Are technologies validated differently in academia and in industry?”

Certainly, technology validation in business is not just reproducibility: the technology has to create value and is a low risk investment. Hence, we need to foresee its entire life cycle: innovation, prototyping, testing, certifying, manufacturing, performance, maintenance, and disposal. Regarding the legal issues, in addition to the commonly known IP and copy right protections, there is also FDA approval, employment rights, security regulations, etc.

The business team is a multidisciplinary group of scientists, and also management and regulation specialists, typically not found in academia. Inevitably, people are your number one asset. Working with a team of the “right” people, you then need to assess the market.

Market research is probing what the end-user wants and knowing the business competitions, having the knowledge of which we might need to tweak the design and modify the marketing and distribution strategies. Besides these obvious points, there are also concerns for reimbursement positioning, which is especially important for pricing medical devices.

At this point, we are finally ready to put together a business plan that hopefully can convince some angels and venture capitalists to invest in us. But it's important to remember that this is just the beginning.

All of this comes together to show that knowing what we don’t know is the key to move ideas from research to market place. We, the academia-born researchers, have been sheltered from the complications of product development and never learned that commercialization is more than patent filing. We still have a lot to learn about business. And, once we decide to take the leap, there should be full commitment. This is my biggest "aha moment" from attending the BMEA workshop.

(And there is no better practice ground than the annual start-up pitch competition held at Photonics West. It's always a challenge to present a research project AND business plan in under 2 minutes. Submit your presentation for Photonics West, San Francisco, 21 - 26 January 2012.)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

#FacesofPhotonics: Photovoltaics PhD Student Arfa Karani

Meet this week's SPIE Faces of Photonics feature, Arfa Karani. Arfa is a physics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the physics of solar cells. She is originally from India, but has lived outside her home country for many years while pursuing her education. 

Arfa was also President of the SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Cambridge in 2017-18, and continues to remain involved with the chapter when she's not hard at work in the university's Cavendish Lab.


Enjoy her interview!




1. How did you become interested in the optics and photonics field? Was there a person who inspired you?

My physics teacher at school inspired me. I got interested in studying optics because my curiosity was satisfied by this teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about what they did. When you ask too many questions as a child, people try to divert your attention once they are tired of answering. Not this teacher.

I know it’s a bit cliché, but I was amazed by how one could cre…

#FacesofPhotonics and Women In Optics feature: IBM Researcher Anuja De Silva

Meet the SPIE Faces of Photonics star of the week, SPIE Member Anuja De Silva. Anuja grew up in Sri Lanka and now resides in Albany, New York, where she works as a materials and process researcher in the Semiconductor Technology Research division of IBM. Speaking of her work, she says, "I develop new types of materials and processes that help us to scale the size of computer chips... It's hardware development for next-generation semiconductor devices."

Anuja graduated with her Bachelor's in Chemistry from Mount Holyoke College and went on to get her Master's and PhD in Materials Chemistry from Cornell University. Upon conducting a research project for her undergraduate degree, she found her passion for optics and materials research.


"I have always been interested in math and science," Anuja shares. "The options in Sri Lanka, where I grew up, for a career as a research scientist were limited. My mother encouraged me to apply to college in the Unite…