UNHInnovation Helps Facilitate 3rd Annual BIO I-Corps Inclusive Entrepreneurship Training Workshop
In the beginning of June, 34 early-career scientists from across the country, including a UNH undergraduate student and a UNH graduate student, converged in Philadelphia to participate in the third annual BIO I-Corps Inclusive Entrepreneurship Training Workshop to learn about commercializing early-stage ideas. The workshop was offered in partnership with The United Negro College Fund, the National Science Foundation, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), the Ernest E. Just Institute for the Life Sciences, AUTM, UNH I-Corps, CSU I-Corps, MIT I-Corps, and Penn I-Corps, and took place in parallel to the annual BIO International Conference. The participants were chosen from a pool of over 100 applicants, with special consideration of diversity and inclusion to help ensure scientists from all backgrounds are given the tools and skills necessary to bring ideas to market.
The training program was developed in 2017 by Susan Baxter and her team from San Diego State University (SDSU). This year, it was delivered by an experienced teaching team (many with direct biotech leadership experience) that included experts from SDSU and MIT, as well as UNHInnovation’s Managing Director Marc Sedam. The three-day course was designed to be a hybrid of a hackathon and the I-Corps training program, which was first developed for the National Science Foundation (NSF).
On day one, all the participants had a chance to meet and were introduced to their preassigned team members. Each team was paired with business mentors who were there to help provide strategies, refinement, and guidance, and ensure the teams stayed focused on identifying real solutions that benefit human health. The topic of focus for this year’s workshop was gene and cell-based therapies and the morning of the first day was spent learning about how those therapies work. Participants listened to presentations from several domain experts who provided an overview of the current state of the industry and shared their experiences and the challenges their companies have faced in delivering needed solutions. After the presentations, each team was asked to research a problem space within cell and gene-based therapies and then select and develop an idea that addressed the problem. Participants spent the next few hours narrowing their concepts until a final idea was selected. Final team ideas included using gene therapy to eradicate uterine fibroid formation, creating a more cost-effective method of manufacturing CAR-T cells for immunotherapies, and increasing rural patient access to cell and gene-therapies.
On the second day of the workshop, teams were given customer discovery interview training and asked to map out a plan for customer discovery on the BIO International Conference floor. The teams took their ideas to the conference hall to learn about the competitive landscape, meet with potential customers and partners, and learn from industry leaders and other domain experts. On average, each team conducted 26 interviews on the exhibition floor. The teams reconvened on the third and final day of the workshop to report what they had learned in their interviews and discuss how their ideas had evolved and developed over the course of the program.
Over the three-day workshop, participants transformed into creative problem-solvers focused on market needs. One participant remarked that their biggest take-away from the costumer discovery training was that “a well thought out idea may not necessarily be the solution the customer needs at a particular point in time.” Another participant said, “I found this workshop to be extremely valuable. I am very excited to continue to develop the skills I learned and to further explore this space. I have already recommended this workshop to more than one person.” In a follow-up survey, all 34 participants said they saw themselves participating in the commercialization of biotech in the future. The training will serve them well as they advance in their careers.
The BIO I-Corps Inclusive Entrepreneurship Training Workshop continues to grow every year and is gaining in reputation and recognition within the industry. As the program expands, it will continue to make a small but meaningful impact in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in biotech and UNHInnovation looks forward to being a part of it.