Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

Scientists unleashed

By Steve Blank

Some men see things as they are and ask why.

Others dream things that never were and ask why not.

-- George Bernard Shaw

Were in the middle of ourNational Science Foundation Innovation Corps class taking the most promising research projects in American university laboratories and teaching these scientists the basics of entrepreneurship. Our goal is to accelerate the commercialization of their inventions. OurLean LaunchPad class teaches scientists and engineers that starting a company is another research project that can be solved by an iterative process of hypotheses testingand experimentation built around thebusiness model / customer development / agile development solution stack. Its the scientific method applied to startups.

Although I typically dont write about a class while its going on, I had to share this extraordinary reflection thatSatish Kandlikar, one of the National Science Foundation principal investigators, posted to our Lean LaunchPad class blog.

Satish Kandlikar The spirit of entrepreneurship

Satish Kandlikar has been a professor in the mechanical engineering department at theRochester Institute of Technology for the past twenty-one years. His research is focused in the areas of flow boiling, critical heat flux, contact line heat transfer, and advanced cooling techniques

His team, Akara Lighting, wants to build a device for LED lights that gets rid of heat 50% better than anything on the market. This would result in LEDs having a higher performance at a reduced cost.

Heres what he had to say about his experience in the Lean LaunchPad class .

It is quite an eye-opening experience to transition from an academic PI (Principal Investigator) to someone who wants to run a technology start-up. The change in the mindset is perhaps the important factor on the path to success

The teaching team is simply phenomenal in identifying the pitfalls in our path and guiding us in finding the solutions. They have shown us the other side of the equation from technology to market acceptability. We have been extremely fortunate in having this kind of guidance and support.

A key finding I would like to report is that we just had another pivot two days ago when our mentor brought to our attention that we can succeed as a heat pipe company providing thermal solutions to various LED products as well as other applications. I visited two companies, one providing data center cooling solutions, and other providing control panel cooling systems. Key alliances are expected to occur through these initial, very positive, contacts.

One fundamental change that I see in my approach going forward is thatI am looking at the research in a totally different way. It is no longer, in my mind, a means to publishing papers and simply graduating students. It means now, to me,how the research can be applied to make products that are accepted in marketplace. Making students understand the entire process, to whatever extent I can influence them, and inspiring them to aspire for transferring their knowledge to products is becoming an important thrust in my classroom interactions.

Another eye-opener was on understanding communications. While making presentations in academic setting, it was more of a paper-based research with extension of knowledge, without too much understanding of its application. Knowing the audience was really not a factor. Now after making cold-calls, and seeing that there is a certain way to get them interested in just a few opening sentences, was simply amazing.Knowing what their needs are is a crucial step.

Now it is becoming clear what Steve meant when he said, get out of the building. It is clear thatthe building referred to our mindset more than the physical act of going out or simply contacting someone outside.

The purpose of this posting was to document my beginning of the transformation process from an academician to an entrepreneur. And I am definitely enjoying it.

Scientists unleashed

Over fifty years ago Silicon Valley was bornin an era of applied experimentation driven by scientists and engineers. Fifty years from now, well look back to this current decade as the beginning of another revolution, where scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs were integrated into the fabric of society faster than they had ever been before, unleashing a new era for a new American economy built on entrepreneurship and innovation.

And scientists like Satish Kandlikar and theNational Science Foundation will lead the way.