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When Science Meets Business

By Patty Housman

Women in Incubator

Thanks to Megan Nelson (MS biotechnology '16) and Rachel Zayas (MS biotechnology '17), college students across the nation may soon be able to visit self-service kiosks to get tested for colds, viruses, influenza, and nearly 40 other common illnesses.

Nelson and Zayas are building a new business—a direct-to- consumer diagnosis station for the detection of common infectious agents, which eliminates a trip to a doctor or clinic. Results could take less than half an hour and cost less than 30 dollars. In theory, it's a perfect melding of science and business—and it would not have been possible without mentoring from Kathryn Walters-Conte, program director of AU's recently revamped Professional Science Masters in Biotechnology, and John Bracht, assistant professor of biology.

Nelson and Zayas have also been supported by AU's new Incubator, a key component of the Kogod School of Business's Center for Innovation, which provides current students and recent graduates with a workspace and access to industry experts to help them bring promising business and social impact ventures to life.

"Launching a business is like learning how to play chess for the first time," said Zayas. "There are many moving pieces, every move matters. Most of us know the purpose of chess, but only with a strategy, can one succeed. The Incubator has taught me how to strategize from a business thesis into a business venture."


Entrepreneurship and Innovation

With the launch of the Incubator two years ago, as well as new courses focusing on business and entrepreneurship, more and more College of Arts and Sciences students are succeeding at turning big ideas into businesses with real potential.

One Incubator venture, Sand Scan, has recently advanced to the finals of the Lab to Launch competition for DC STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) startups, which is held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest general scientific society in the world. Sand Scan uses drones and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to measure beach erosion. The company was founded by Matt Mullin (BA environmental science and applied physics minor '18). Mullin, who is currently doing an internship at NASA, grew up on Cape Cod, Mass., and was inspired by the beaches near his childhood home.

In another venture, Peter To (BS biology '18) and a team of students are working to develop 3D printing of artificial ligaments for ACL knee reconstruction. To and fellow classmate Michael Podielsky (BS biology '18) have been brainstorming ways to start a 3D printing company since their first week of freshman year. The Incubator gave them the push they needed.

"We are technically trained students with lab skills and science backgrounds. We had no idea of how to really launch a startup," To says. But then he met Bill Bellows, executive in residence at the Kogod School of Business and co-director of the Incubator. "Professor Bellows encouraged us to compete in the Incubator's Big Idea Pitch Competition," To explains. "We placed third. For us, the Incubator allowed us to combine science and business—our project really got going and continues to grow because of validation and support from the Incubator."


Intersection of Science and Business

The Incubator works across schools and disciplines, and its influence on the sciences has been notable. Walters-Conte says that the Incubator teaches her students how to translate science into practical applications for commercial purposes.

"It's a new path for biotechnology students, and it opens doors to careers in commercial biotech companies, government, and startups," she says. Along with traditional science and technology classes, biotech students at AU also take two entrepreneurship and innovation courses within the Kogod School of Business. "The classes stress the newest technologies and how to commercialize them and bring them out of academia and into the marketplace."

Walters-Conte adds that more collaboration lies ahead when the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building opens later this year. It will become the new home of the Incubator and a makerspace, forming a launching pad to get new businesses and social progress ventures off the ground.