As part of its Innovation District initiative, UGA launched two new programs last semester designed to prepare its faculty and researchers for the world of entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. According to participants, both programs provided valuable training and support as they embark—or continue on—their own innovation journeys.
Hitesh Handa and Jenay Beer, assistant professors in the colleges of Engineering and Public Health, respectively, were selected as UGA’s first two Innovation Fellows, each receiving a semester-long education in what it takes to be an academic entrepreneur. Meanwhile, 18 UGA women participated in a six-week Innovation Bootcamp that covered similar ground in a condensed period of time.
“I realize more and more that the value of my research is maximized when I consider it all the way to the end user,” said Julianne Schmidt, associate professor in the College of Education and co-director of both its Concussion Research and Biomechanics laboratories. “I knew the Innovation Bootcamp would help me design research studies that improve my field of sports medicine beyond just publication in a scientific journal.”
Bootcamp participants came from all across campus and included tenure-track faculty, postdoctoral researchers and graduate students. Organizers also brought in a range of guest speakers to share their experiences in the business world.
“[Most rewarding] for me was meeting other women entrepreneurs who understand the challenges women have in starting businesses and getting funding,” said Adrienne Baldwin White, assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “I’ve also enjoyed meeting women on campus I can reach out to after this is over and having relationships with colleagues outside [the School of] Social Work. Being an academic and a woman has its own challenges, so to meet other women in academia who are thriving and successful has been good.”
“Everyone’s stories and passions were inspiring to me,” said Kelly Catlin, DMA student in the Hugh Hodgson School of Music. “I’ve learned there is no linear path to success, and the tools we take from this program will help us no matter which project we set our sights on.”
Crystal Leach, director of industry collaborations in the Office of Research, was the chief organizer of the bootcamp, in collaboration with Innovation Gateway staff. Leach said participants enjoyed the small-group, focused and personalized program and support the bootcamp provided, as well as the connections they made.
“We’ve got people from music and social work and infectious diseases and other departments, all now connected into programs like I-Corps and the Terry Entrepreneurship program. It’s really powerful,” said Leach.
UGA’s I-Corps program, the NSF-funded training initiative in support of STEM innovation, played a central role for Innovation Fellows Beer and Handa. “It opened my eyes to the I-Corps program, which was extremely useful for my students,” said Handa, whose startup, inNOveta Biomedical, is based on his research in antimicrobial coatings. “We have many different directions for the company, and now I want people from my lab to do I-Corps every semester. In the future, I might have some ideas I’m not really sure about—let those ideas be part of I-Corps, so my students could find out whether those ideas are worth pursuing.”
Beer looks forward to serving as an informal ambassador for the Innovation District and UGA’s innovation-related programs back in her department. “I’ve learned such a useful and diverse set of skills. Without a doubt, I would not have gained this knowledge on my own, and I’m already applying it every day. This experience has me completely rethinking my entire research program.”
“Our first Innovation Fellows cohort was truly successful,” said Ian Biggs, director of startups for Innovation Gateway. “While we will be making small updates to the course based on the experiences of Jenay and Hitesh, this is a great example of the expansion of the Innovation District programming to help faculty move their technologies to the widest possible uses and markets.”
Based on the success of the first session, another Innovation Bootcamp will be offered in spring 2020, starting in mid-February. More information, including how to apply, can be found at https://research.uga.edu/gateway/researchers/entrepreneurs/innovation-bootcamp/.