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At the Intersection of Business and Biology

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Melissa Bradley (Business) and Kathryn Walters-Conte (Biology)
Biotechnology faculty, Melissa Bradley (Business) and Kathryn Walters-Conte (Biology), at the launch of the AU Center for Innovation in the Capital.

Biotechnology is one of the fastest growing industries globally. Biotechnology translates the fields of plant science, microbiology, genetics, genomics, and biomedical engineering into practical application. The Professional Science Master’s of Biotechnology at American University is unique because it includes business classes and internship requirements, in addition to core science courses. This is imperative because the exposure to management, finance, and business, as well as industry experience, puts graduates in a position of success in industry and government agencies. A new and exciting opportunity avail- able to biotechnology and other students is the American University Incubator Program, through the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative.

The Incubator is a space that promotes creativity and innovation. It was created by AU’s Kogod School of Business. The Incubator gives those with a business idea a platform to further develop their project. It also helps them network and find potential investors. The Incubator is codirected by Kogod Executives in Residence Bill Bellows and Tommy White, with whom students conduct an informational meeting before officially applying. This meeting is generally informal and simply to judge the viability of a product or idea. Afterwards, there is a Proof of Idea form that needs to be filled out, which can be accessed through the American University website. If the idea presented is approved, then the group or individual will present the idea in front of a board, after which a decision will be made within two weeks as to whether or not it is accepted into the Incubator.

Megan Nelson, a second year biotechnology graduate student had this to say about her Incubator application process: “Professors Bellows and White have been extremely welcoming during the American Incubator application process. I look forward to working with them and other students within the Incubator to develop my business.”

Nelson hopes to launch her business, which involves the use of genetic testing for the rapid diagnosis of diseases through the AU Incubator program. In fact, several biotechnology and biology students like Nelson are already in the process of pitching their ideas to the Incubator. A great thing about the program is that it is open to AU students up to five years after they graduate. So students can potentially work on their ideas and apply to the Incubator any time between their years here, or five years after they have left.

Assistant Biology Professor John Bracht said about the Incubator, “American University biotechnology students can pair their technical knowledge with the tremendous entrepreneurship expertise available through the Incubator. The potent combination of technical and business knowledge allows them to explore many exciting career opportunities.”

The Biotechnology 489/689 course is another great resource for students, as it encompasses a lot of important ideals about the nature of the industry, with a focus on technical skills such as how to write and file for a patent, and how to pitch your business ideas to a board. These are great skills for someone at the intersection of biology and business to have, because they could mean the difference between being able to successfully launch your business, or falling flat.

The class is essentially a series of guest lectures from people across the spectrum of the biological umbrella, from bioethics lawyers, to academic professors, to FDA or other government-employed scientists. Hearing the diverse backgrounds and paths that all of these professionals have taken to get to their current status is inspiring and intriguing, because it makes one realize that there is a huge array of opportunity in biotechnology, and there are countless ways to succeed in the field.

Almost all graduate students in the PSM Biotechnology Program are currently working on ideas that they want to eventually pitch to the Incubator. The Incubator has done a truly great thing for innovative students: it has made a pipeline dream seem attainable. It will be great to witness what the wonderful partnership students of the Kogod School of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences can create.