Monthly Archives: August 2011

George Whitesides on Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is the world’s largest scientific society with more than 161,000 members at all degree-levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical engineering, and related fields. ACS provides a wealth of educational activities, which are mostly free and open to the public. Most importantly, they are interesting even for those who are not chemists! One of those activities is the “Virtual Career Fair”, where you can find webinars such as “Navigating the Global Industrial Job Market” and “Networking 101 — Making Your Contacts Count”. One of today’s webinars, entitled “Entrepreneurship + Innovation = Jobs” is given by Professor George Whitesides (Harvard University), a legendary innovator and pioneer, who has pioneered microfabrication and nanoscale self-assembly. One of his achievements is the “soft robot”, which is capable of gripping and lifting a raw egg without cracking its delicate shell (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., DOI: 10.1002/anie.201006464). The challenge was to find the right material that could be soft enough to treat delicate surfaces, such as an egg. You can read the full article from C& E News here.

EGG LIFT: A soft robotic gripper lifts a raw egg without damaging its shell. (Source: C&E News)

George Whitesides is the co-founder of a dozen companies and holds 50-plus patents. Definitely worth hearing from him about converting a great idea into a business.

From the American Chemical Society website on today’s webinar:

A recent ACS Task Force on Innovation report documented that most new jobs today and in the near future will be created by entrepreneurial start ups and small companies. Do you have an idea for a new product, service, or technology, but need help converting it into a business? Do you have a desire and the right stuff to be an entrepreneur? Plan to attend this webinar and receive valuable advice and direction from successful serial entrepreneur and Harvard University Professor George Whitesides. Whitesides recently chaired the ACS Task Force on Innovation, which was appointed by Joseph Francisco, 2010 ACS President and Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University. Whitesides and Francisco will provide valuable career advice for chemists at all stages in their careers, whether they are graduate students, postdocs, or seasoned professionals making a transition in this challenging economic job market. At this webinar, you will learn how ACS is working with U.S. policymakers, industry, academia, and its membership to support entrepreneurs and innovation to create jobs. You will learn about new ACS programs in entrepreneurship as well as specific steps that you can take now to develop the skills and find the resources needed to convert your innovative ideas into successful entrepreneurial ventures.


Industry and academia tie the knot

When I was a student at the University of Athens in the late 90s, receiving funding from the Industry was almost unheard of. Although I was an undergrad at the time, I could see that the general Greek academic perception of collaborating with the Industry was viewed almost as the equivalent of a sell-out. Researchers considered teaming up with the Industry the betrayal of their academic purity.

When I was a student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, things were different: A fair number of the lab’s grants stemmed from the Industry: the Volkswagen Foundation, BASF, Novartis, etc. and that was seen as an achievement. Our lab was not the only one to work with the Industry. It was a very common theme for Principal Investigators (PIs) in Germany to reach out to the Industry and big pharma, partner up, and exploit the best of both worlds.

When I was at Yale University, the situation was even better: It was now the Industry who reached out to us researchers. I was very fortunate to serve as the co-President of a very successful student society, the Yale Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Society (YBPS), now called Yale Healthcare and Life Sciences Club (YHLC). Industry sponsored our events and seminars, such as the “Life Sciences Case Competition”, the “Business of Biotechnology Seminar Series”, the “Healthcare Conference” and many others, in order to interact with us and possibly recruit students or form collaborations with research groups of the University.

When I arrived at the Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens in October 2009 as a faculty member, a pleasant surprise was awaiting me: The Greek General Secretariat for Research and Technology (GSRT) had just announced a grant call, named “Synergasia” (“Cooperation” in English), which aimed to enhance the ties and cultivate the collaboration between Greek Industry and Academia.

So times are changing. There is a new mindset in the academic world (at the very least in my area of expertise, drug discovery). Recent articles such as Nature’s Scibx, “Small (molecule) thinking in academia”, and “Partnering between pharma peers on the rise” of Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, explain how and why pharmaceutical–academia deals, such as the $100-million Pfizer pact with 8 academic Institutions from the Boston area, have been stealing headlines this year. In another recent brief mention in Nature, faculty members say that industry research has contributed to important work.

Life-science researchers in US universities receive $33,000 a year on average from the medical drug and device industry. […] More than half (51.9%) said they maintain a relationship with industry. The study found that such relationships provide significant benefits both to the researcher and to science. Among faculty members most involved with industry research, nearly half said it “contributed to their most important scientific work and led to research that would not otherwise have been possible”.

Exciting times. Still, challenges and caveats are obviously not absent. True collaborative environment between the partners, licensing/IP and publishing issues, technology transfer know-how, commercialization matters and different goals for each institution, are all issues that need to be seriously considered before teaming up in such consortia.

Scientists: Blog or be Blogged

Professor Paul Knoepfler (UC Davis) explains in this Nature article why he joined the ranks of the blogosphere, and why you should too.

Knoepfler argues that there are too few science blogs:

Other scientists in academia tell me they worry that blogging would damage their careers. Specifically, they fear that colleagues would view them as amateurs, ‘wasting time’ on blogging, which could reduce their chances of achieving tenure. They fear the wrath of others in the field should they post the ‘wrong’ thing on their blog, and they worry about payback in negative grant and paper reviews. Some are concerned about attracting unruly and insulting readers’ comments.

And, among other things, he goes on to give some tips for beginners: Start slowly, wait a day after writing and reread your draft before posting, try to avoid discussing your own institution, critique papers or theories in the field in a constructive manner, don’t blog about issues that are unrelated to science, update your blog regularly, read and comment on other blogs, which will lead people to yours, and others. He then goes on to conclude about why you should be blogging, too:

Savvy scientists must increasingly engage with blogs and social media. A new generation of young researchers has grown up with an ever-present Internet. Publishers have been quicker than academics to react to this new world, but scientists must catch up. Even if you choose not to blog, you can certainly expect that your papers and ideas will increasingly be blogged about. So there it is — blog or be blogged.

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