It’s been a busy start-up kind of fall for the CSUPERB program office. Things keeping me in the background include: opening up this year’s poster abstract process* for the 27th Annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium, advocating for the CIRM Bridges programs, seeing Helmsley Trust awards made for new CSU STEM Collaboratives, issuing the new Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for CSUPERB grant programs, and teaching and mentoring our first class of CSU I-Corps teams.**
How does the four-person CSUPERB program office stay on top of all this program activity? Well – nearly one hundred faculty committee volunteers are working to move things forward with us this fall. As examples, Paula Fischhaber (CSU Northridge) is overseeing the symposium award selection process this year and Math Cuajungco (CSU Fullerton) is organizing the Graduate School Information Session for students who attend the symposium. But this fall the program office is extra-fortunate to have the help of two fine women – Dayna Zarate (our student assistant) and Shannon Palka (our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer).
Dayna handles the tsunami of submission files (poster abstracts, proposals, registrations, etc.) our office receives. She’s got a couple years of administrative experience working in our office now. I think she could run her own public health grant program and maybe she will some day! Shannon is helping us ramp up and figure out how best to interest students in CSU I-Corps opportunities. She’s also taken on most of the I-Corps team liaison activities, meaning she’s the one most teams reach out to figure out how to apply and spend microgrants, how to upload documents to the teams’ Google Drive, how to get intellectual property advice on campus, how to make contact with industry mentors, how to find appropriate biotech meetings, etc. etc. etc. (…including the @csu_icorps Twitter feed)!
So that I can get my next CSU I-Corps webinar ready for our 10/24 meeting (multi-sided biotech markets, anyone?!), Shannon Palka is our guest blogger today. Her essay below appeared first (with more photos) on the CSU STEM VISTA blog. Take some time to read other posts there from the STEM VISTA volunteers working on CSU university campuses statewide. Thanks to Shannon and her colleagues we serve our students and surrounding communities more effectively. As you’ll read below – these capable, thoughtful VISTA volunteers are already strategic and – dare I say – entrepreneurial leaders!
“The Science of Business
As you can read about on this blog, my CSU STEM VISTA colleagues are helping provide opportunities to STEM students across the nation’s largest four-year public university system. They’re working to provide research opportunities, internships, mentoring, career prep, etc., and they’re all doing amazing things.
My program has a slightly different flavor than the other projects you’ll read about here, because of its distinct business and entrepreneurship emphasis. I am working with student and faculty researchers to implement a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) called Innovation Corps (or I-Corps). In essence, [the CSU] I-Corps is an immersive, interdisciplinary experience that trains nascent academic entrepreneurs and curious researchers about how to bring their discoveries from the lab to the market. The emphasis is learning rather than commercial success, which is pretty unique as far as entrepreneurship programs go. STEM students learn business skills and networking and develop interpersonally in a low-risk environment, adding another dimension to their undergraduate training and preparing them for life after graduation, no matter what field they intend to enter.
Now, my undergraduate degree was in English and my professional experience is in community building. I never took a business class, and I was never tempted to. I assumed they would be about laws and regulations, how to make a spread sheet, and other topics I just do not find interesting. Maybe that assumption is right. Like I said, I never took a class.
In planning and promoting the new I-Corps program for CSU students across all 23 campuses, I had to learn about effective entrepreneurship so I could explain the benefits of I-Corps to researchers with as much business training as I have. So, I went through rapid commercialization training, similar to what we’re providing I-Corps participants. My learning curve was a sharp right angle. It was a baptism by fire, of sorts. What I learned surprised me.
Entrepreneurship isn’t about making money – at least not intrinsically. It’s about solving problems. Step One of a successful venture is finding the biggest, baddest problems that plague people relentlessly. These are “migraine problems,” as Diana Kander dubbed them in All In Startup, because they’re the ones you would do anything to get rid of. Step Two is finding a successful, practical remedy to that problem. It’s about crafting solutions. There’s just as much experimenting and discovery in entrepreneurship as there is in a traditional chemistry lab.
Step Three is the kicker, and, if done right, it should color steps One and Two. Step Three is wasting no time or money in the process.
I’ve been immersed in entrepreneurship theory, and I’ve learned there’s no shame in abandoning an idea that won’t work, or that just isn’t the best. We make assumptions about good ways to fix a problem, and – since we’re human – those assumptions are often flawed. Maybe we don’t fully understand the problem. Maybe we’re making assumptions about the needs of everyone who will be affected, or the broader context you’re working in.
It’s not because we’re stupid. It’s because we’re human. The scope of our knowledge and understanding can fundamentally not encompass everything we’d like to know, or even everything we perhaps should know.
So, rather than throwing away good money after bad trying to make an imperfect solution work, successful entrepreneurs strive to find any potential flaws early, fix them and change course, or abandon the idea and begin again in a new direction.
This is the entrepreneurial spirit. It’s actively searching for the good and the bad in a plan. It’s identifying the unknown through research and persistence and adapting to the unexpected, accordingly. It’s cutting your losses before you’ve bankrupted your time and resources. It’s learning; it’s creating; and it goes hand in hand with STEM.”
- Shannon Palka (October 20th, 2015)
* We received 318 abstract submissions this year from 21 CSU campuses, representing research from about 160 faculty-led labs across California. We’re expecting we can accept about 82% of them this year. The poster abstract selection committee is hard at work!
**Teams should start forming for the next two CSU I-Corps classes, or cohorts!