Penn State Smeal exposes scientists to business, entrepreneurship expertise

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A week of executive-style business classes led by Penn State Smeal College of Business faculty recently exposed 22 life science doctoral and post-doctoral students at Penn State to the entrepreneurial possibilities of their research.

This unique collaboration was developed and led by Smeal’s Dennis Sheehan and Donna Korzick from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development. Sheehan is the Virginia and Louis Benzak Professor of Finance. Korzick is a professor of physiology and kinesiology and director of an NIH-sponsored institutional predoctoral training program addressing physiological stress adaptation and alternative biomedical career preparation.

Korzick, who is also affiliated with Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and chair of the Intercollege Graduate Program in Physiology, wanted to introduce graduate students to the business and entrepreneurial possibilities their research held. She was then able to obtain additional funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with equal matching support from Penn State, to reach a greater number of students in the biomedical sciences.

“The NIH has indicated that an overhaul of how we educate graduate students in the biomedical sciences is long overdue,” Korzick said. “We know that the majority of our graduate students will end up in careers that are outside of academia, and we need to be responsive to this new climate and assure Penn State graduates in the biomedical sciences are prepared for these new career realities.”

Once Korzick had secured funding, all that remained was finding a partner with the entrepreneurial expertise and business vision to walk the graduate students through the business, legal and regulatory aspects of entrepreneurship. Korzick approached Sheehan with her idea

“I thought this type of collaboration made a lot of sense and fit into Smeal’s mission of sharing our business acumen with the rest of the University population,” Sheehan said. “Collaborations like this are what President (Eric) Barron has been advocating in his efforts with initiatives like Invent Penn State.

In just more than a year, Korzick and Sheehan sketched out what curriculum could be covered in a weeklong business boot camp for graduate students and then went about enlisting the help of Smeal faculty who could share their particular expertise.

Daniel Cahoy, professor of business law, shared his vast knowledge of intellectual property law, as well as related issues in technology law and general business law concepts.

Shawn Clark, interim director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told students about the myriad startups with which he has had experiences.

Hari Sridhar, former Frank and Mary Jean Smeal Research Fellow, associate professor of marketing and associate research director for the Institute for Study of Business Markets, covered the marketing challenges of startups and emerging companies.

Initial feedback from student participants was overwhelmingly positive.

“This experience has significantly altered my way of thinking such that it has unlocked my mind to the role I play in the grander scheme of discovery and drug therapeutics,” said Adwitia Dey, a physiology doctoral candidate. “As budding scientists, rarely do we think about the next step in translation and this experience has taught me the importance and purpose of doing so.”

One student said she was encouraged to learn that so many entrepreneurial resources already existed on campus.

“On the last day a few entrepreneurs from the science field who are successfully running their own businesses participated in a panel discussion,” said Shubhada Chothe, a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences/Pathobiology program. “I found this discussion extremely helpful as I could relate more to them.

“The panel shared their experiences and provided great tips to enter and survive in the business world. Don McCandless, director of the TechCelerator@StateCollege, delivered a very interactive talk about the business support services that exist right here in State College. Attending this boot camp was the coolest thing I have done so far in 2016.”

Cissy Young, a 2005 Penn State Smeal master of business administration graduate, participated in a panel discussion about how science doctoral students can move from the world of science to the world of business. Young also has a doctorate in cancer biology from Columbia University and, following her MBA from Smeal, she worked for TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals and Cerulean Pharma. She is now an executive director at Russell Reynolds, helping firms recruit their top leadership.

“As someone who has made the transition from science to business, I was happy to help with the boot camp. These Penn State Ph.D. students will benefit from having the opportunity to think about being part of an entrepreneurial venture,” Young said.

With institutional matching support, Korzick and Sheehan hope to deliver this curriculum for at least the next four years and beyond.

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Last Updated July 18, 2016