With the launch of the American University's 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.
The Incubator is a key component of the Kogod School of Business's Center for Innovation,
and it is giving students and recent graduates a workspace and access
to industry experts to help them bring promising business and social
impact ventures to life.
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.