San Diego, Calif., May 26, 2016 – Nick Forsch relies heavily on clinician feedback for his research. As a bioengineering Ph.D. student at the University of California San Diego, he is developing computational tools to enable doctors to better understand their patients’ diseases. His experiences translating research to end users led Forsch to join a new program at UC San Diego that places Jacobs School of Engineering graduate students and MBA students in the same Rady School of Management classes including the Rady School’s signature Lab to Market program. This pilot program is part of the new UC San Diego Institute for the Global Entrepreneur that will launch June 2, 2016.
Forsch wants to work in biomedical technology as an engineer, designer and project leader. His goal is to create low-cost solutions to common healthcare problems. He is one of about 35 engineering graduate students from the Jacobs School who are part of the first class of the Institute for the Global Entrepreneur’s Technology Management and Entrepreneurism Fellowship program.
The university plans to develop the pilot into a master’s degree program.
Electrical engineering Ph.D. student Somayeh Imani also jumped at the opportunity to participate in the pilot. She designs circuits for biomedical applications that could help improve people’s health and quality of life, especially for poor people living in the world.
“Commercialization is hard,” said Imani who ticked through a list of things that engineers don’t usually learn in school, including business plans and marketing skills. “There is so much opportunity in the field of wearables to commercialize the technology,” she said. “I realized I needed this specific skill set to help our research group bring some of their wearable sensors to the market.”
Imani is part of the Energy-Efficient Microsystem lab run by electrical engineering professor Patrick Mercier, the Co-Director of the Center for Wearable Sensors at UC San Diego.
In the first half of the four-quarter program, Jacobs School graduate students take classes taught by Rady School of Management faculty. During the second half of the program, these same engineering graduate students team up with Rady School MBA students to build a business around a real technological innovation. This happens through the Rady School MBA program’s Lab to Market course sequence.
Rady School marketing professor On Amir is teaching the first course in the program.
“We talk first about how to create value for the customer, instead of how neat the technology is,” said Amir. “Businesses exist if and only if they create value to someone. That’s what value creation is – satisfying a set of needs.”
In this first class, the students are learning to build strategies that they will implement throughout the program. As teams of four or five, the students choose an idea and develop a business plan. Forsch, the bioengineering student, is in a group that’s developing a business plan for a diagnostic software tool that assesses the risk of developing a blood clot in the ventricle of the heart.
As an exercise, the students tell a story from the customer’s point of view to try to better identify how the product or service is used by a customer.
“Our story was about a doctor, our possible target customer,” said Forsch. “He was seeing a patient who had just suffered a heart attack and was at risk for blood clots in the heart. I told a story about the doctor testing the patient and then using the diagnostic tool. The results came back as ‘low risk of blood clot’ and the patient went on their merry way, albeit slightly worried that they were not prescribed medication.”
That story could have been told in a number of ways, some more difficult than others, said Forsch. “For example, should we consider patients or doctors to be the customers?”
According to Amir, the Rady School professor, the customer stories feed into the larger business strategy. “We also learn how to test these strategies and make data-driven decisions. A lot of engineers are entrepreneurs, but lack the business acumen to make it work.”
This program is working to change that, by giving engineering students and their MBA student teammates the tools to become change makers, technical leaders, and entrepreneurs who drive innovation within organizations both large and small.
“In order to have a major impact in your community and in industry, you need to have a mix of people working with you – people to challenge the way you think,” said Karcher Morris, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student participating in the pilot. “This program facilitates that.”