LANCE R. COLLINS: Cornell is a very unusual Ivy League school because it's both an Ivy League school and it's a land grant school. And what that means is that engineering, in fact, was there right from the inception of the university 151 years ago. So engineering has been an integral part of the university all along. It's been outstanding, always at the top of the Ivy League, and among the very best in the country.
Commercialization Fellows is an engineering program for PhD students at Cornell University. PhD students tend to work in the laboratories, to be very focused on the technology they're developing. They work very closely with their advisers. They don't really come into contact with undergraduate students or with students that are in the MBA program, for example. And so if they do have an interest in innovation and in creating a commercial entity from the work that they're doing, they sometimes have difficulty understanding how to go about.
I met a number of students that had that difficulty, that tried to start companies with technology they developed in the laboratory. And when they failed, they often failed because of the business understanding. So it came to me that we should develop programming to help our PhD students to become more successful as business entrepreneurs.
BILL BEDELL: Researchers tend to think about commercialization backwards. They start with something they think is really cool, and then they go out and try to find ways to apply it. That's a really hard way to do entrepreneurship. It's better if you can think mostly about what customers need and then find ways to give it to them.
TOM SCHRYVER: The Fellows Program is six months long and involves intense work on the part of the PhD students-- getting out in the market, talking to customers, and understanding the commercial implications of the technology. In the second half of the Commercialization Fellows Program, we bring in teams of MBA students to work with them on their technology assessments. The purpose of this is to give the Fellows an opportunity to do some work on their own and talk to customers on their own before they start working with other people to put them on more of an even playing field and allow them to be the driver of the project. They then bring the MBAs in to give an additional set of hands and give them the opportunity to see the commercial implications of these technologies.
AMANDA BARES: It's been a great experience so far, particularly because I have very little business experience. I've never taken a business class or accounting class. And it's really given me the opportunity to evaluate my skill set and their skill set. It's been a lot of work on educating them about the technology so they clearly understand the limitations and what space it can sit in. And they are helping me evaluate the business model, how you actually make money with this type of technology.
TOM SCHRYVER: At the heart of the Fellows Program is this assessment process, which is really driven by talking to customers. The most fundamental thing that we ask the Fellows to do is to determine whether or not these inventions actually have a customer on the other side who has a problem that could be solved by these inventions. So we use a product called the Business Model Canvas, which is a method of quickly establishing and hypothesizing a potential business model which then turns into conversations that the Fellows have with potential customers in this business model so that they can determine whether or not the technology is actually viable in solving a real market problem.
BRYAN PEELE: Through the customer discovery process, one of the greatest things I've learned is how accessible people are in a number of industries. By using the Cornell name and working through Cornell connections, I've been able to talk to people in the CTO offices and executives at large companies and startups who are very willing to take the time to spend 15 minutes or even a full hour talking to a student and sharing their experience in the market.
TOM SCHRYVER: One of the things that research has shown about entrepreneurship is that it happens better together. We see all over the world these entrepreneurial clusters that have occurred, and we have one right here at Cornell and right here in Ithaca, New York. Why? Because we have a really highly educated population of very innovative and creative people. The great thing that that allows us to have is we have this ecosystem of services and products and spaces and people and places and programs that folks can go to.
So these commercialization Fellows have this six-month process that they're going through, but they also have an opportunity to participate in programs sponsored by the Center for Technology Licensing or at Rev Ithaca Startup Works or through Entrepreneurship at Cornell or take a class at the Johnson School or at the Hotel School or somewhere else around campus. And so by virtue of having all of these programs together, we create this ecosystem that is truly a whole that's greater than the sum of its parts.
MADHUR SRIVASTAVA: I believe Cornell has changed me a lot. I come from India. And although India is a diverse country, but the diversity which America, in general, and Cornell, specifically, provides completely changed my perspectives. It's any person, any study-- I can go to Johnson School. I can go to any lab, take any course and seek anyone's help.
BRYAN PEELE: I think this experience is very valuable. Just understanding the process of how do you actually secure intellectual property, how do you find a value in that in the marketplace in approaching that problem is beneficial. Whether starting a company, working for a company, or even an academic career-- being able to understand what steps need to be taken if you want to eventually see your technology commercialized.
SPEAKER 1: It's given me the courage to go out and have these conversations that I wouldn't have had before and do this customer discovery, understanding markets, and get outside of my technical comfort zone and really expand my skill set.
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Commercialization Fellows is a funded six-month fellowship for engineering PhD students, giving them an opportunity to take a deep dive into the commercialization process and potential real-world applications of university inventions. The program supports Fellows through personalized guidance, mentorship, and a collaboration with Johnson School MBAs, allowing Fellows to focus on developing entrepreneurial behaviors that can benefit them in academia, industry, or in starting their own company. Applications for 2017 may be submitted January 23-April 10. Learn more and apply at