Moving Ideas From the Lab to the Marketplace: CBIS Student Researchers Gain Insights From Noted Entrepreneurs

Moving Ideas From the Lab to the Marketplace

Be open to new ideas, learn from those around you—whether they are experts in your field or not—hone your “elevator pitch,” be interesting enough to generate a follow-up question, learn to read a profit and loss statement, take a lot of shots on goal, and, above all else, find something important to work on.

Those are just some of the pearls of wisdom shared by Rensselaer alumnus and serial health analytics entrepreneur Paul A. Bleicher, M.D., Ph.D. (B.S. ’76), and his wife, Julia L. Greenstein, Ph.D., with a group of Rensselaer students doing research in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS).

Bleicher, CEO of OptumLabs, and Greenstein, vice president, Discovery Research at JDRF (formally known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), took time for the exchange while on campus to celebrate his selection as the 2015 William F. Glaser ’53 Rensselaer Entrepreneur of the Year, awarded by the Lally School.

Student researchers afforded the opportunity to engage in this small group discussion with Dr. Bleicher and Dr. Greenstein are participants in either the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) National Institutes of Health Predoctoral Program in Biomolecular Science and Engineering Training Program (T32 NIGMS) or the Lally School’s Master’s Scholars Research Program, which embeds Lally’s business student entrepreneurs in CBIS labs.

“Fully preparing our students to drive scientific discovery and technological innovation that takes on the great challenges in today’s global marketplace requires giving them the opportunity to think and work both in and beyond the lab, across disciplines and cultures, in the entrepreneurial fray,” said Deepak Vashishth, Ph.D., director of CBIS. “Paul Bleicher and Julia Greenstein offered our students invaluable insights on how to operate effectively between the worlds of business and academic research.”

Josephine (Josie) LoRicco, who is a president of the CBIS Graduate and Post-doctoral Association (CBIS GSA) and a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and biophysics working on Alzheimer’s research in the CBIS lab of Professor George Makhatadze, said the conversation “really highlights the value of having skills outside of the lab setting,” including business and management, to “take advantage of opportunities outside of your field of expertise,” including “becoming CEO of a company.” As the speakers emphasized, “one of the best skills to have for those looking for jobs in industry, especially biotechnology and the medical fields, is the ability to process and pull meaning from large amounts of data,” she said.

Bleicher, whose educational foundation was built on a degree in biology from Rensselaer, is described as a visionary in the field of web-based clinical trials whose achievements include developing the first commercial electronic data capture application. He spoke of the new imperative of those involved in scientific research to become proficient in data analytics, given the massive amounts of data being compiled without enough people yet capable of analyzing its contents.

Both he and Greenstein also emphasized the importance of knowing your audience, realizing what they are capable of absorbing, and of being able to translate complex science in a way that can be understood by those outside of the lab.

There are tremendous opportunities for those who prepare to bridge the worlds of business and research but it requires making the decision and then preparing to become an entrepreneur, Bleicher told the students.

And how do you know if the entrepreneurial path is for you? Bleicher recommends asking yourself: Do you want to answer someone else’s question, or do you want to come up with your own question?

Since 2014 Rensselaer has been a charter partner of OptumLabs, the collaborative research and innovation center founded by Optum and the Mayo Clinic, committed to improving the quality and value of patient care.

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