Innovation & Intellectual Property, the technology transfer office at PSU, moves innovations developed by faculty and students beyond the University's walls where businesses, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, and even government agencies can harness the potential impact of those innovations for broader use. Like most worthwhile endeavors, it's no easy task. The human and financial resources involved in delivering an innovation or new technology into hands capable of developing it in the manner that will bring about the greatest positive impact are considerable. And at any given time, IIP is engaged in efforts to move multiple projects from departments as diverse as linguistics and engineering, geography and physics, from the labs where they were created to the public.
An innovative partnership between IIP and the School of Business Administration's (SBA) Senior Business Strategy Capstone (BA 495) may help facilitate the transfer of PSU-developed technologies to the public and provide business students an opportunity to learn how to identify project strengths and weaknesses while developing a comprehensive written business plan. In other words, students have the chance to help IIP answer the question: what's the best path for a project to take to reach beyond the walls of PSU where it can have real world impact?
The Business Strategy Capstone is a way for business students from different majors to combine their knowledge and work together in the field with an external partner on pressing strategic issues. Over ten weeks, students conduct comprehensive analysis of an organization, its industry, competitors, and general environment to inform viable strategic alternatives. Deliverables will range from a business plan to more targeted analyses such as a feasibility study for a new product or service.
Students enrolled in BA 495 courses working with IIP-managed technologies actively become, under the guidance of their professors, consultants tasked with assessing, researching, developing, evaluating, and reporting on strategies that will help IIP determine how to take those technologies forward. Students meet independently with IIP and the Principal Investigators (PIs) of the technology, making reports and presentations of their findings and suggestions throughout the course of the quarter leading to a final presentation on the strategy problems they've solved. Often different teams address different client problems to maximize parallel efforts to solve strategy problems.
In its first venture with student consulting groups in a BA 495 course, IIP, along with PI, Dr. Peter Dusicka, a professor of civil engineering at PSU, considered strategies for commercializing a seismic-related retrofitting technology, called in the industry a 'buckling restrained brace' (BRB). In order to analyze the commercialization potential of the invention, the teams were separated to consider the viability of licensing the technology to an existing company versus spinning out a startup company around Dr. Dusicka's BRB. Read more about this technology in the profile "Shaking Up Seismic Retrofitting."
"This collaboration is a great example of how IIP is constantly trying to find connections, resources, and insights for projects our office is working on," Rachelle Richmond, IIP's Innovation & IP Officer, recently said. "Through networking and just talking to people about the technology coming out of PSU, we were able to connect with the BA 495 course.
"The students offered a fresh presepective—different from faculty innovators—different from ours. They identified information we hadn't in our assessment, found information to build upon what we knew, and the information they delivered was succinct and organized. Our interactions sparked productive and informative conversations about the technology and pointed out real business concerns and challenges that will likely need to be tackled in any future work IIP does with Dr. Dusicka's BRB technology."
In the classroom.
According to Dr. Bill Jones, Coordinator of the BA 495 Capstone Program, BA 945 is predicated on requirements all business students must complete to graduate: the campus-wide capstone and the Business Strategies course. BA 495 merges these requirements, providing students the opportunity to engage, partner, and learn from businesses and organizations in the metro region while getting hands-on experience in developing business strategies. Jones hopes merging these two requirements will help launch students into their professional careers.
Working with an actual client and applying the skills I have developed over the last four years at PSU has been immeasurably valuable. Working on this project has provided me a solid knowledge-base in the BRB field, and working with technology developed at PSU really made our group all the more committed to the project.
—James Lovell, SBA Senior
"We started the program in 2011," Jones recently said. "In two years our students have worked on 120 projects for clients, some of whom have come back to the program again and again. These projects prepare students to tackle big issues and create strategies for businesses, to hone their skills and core competencies, to gain valuable expertise."
"Seeing this happen at the undergraduate level is really amazing," Dr. Ted Khoury, an Assistant Professor in SBA, and the professor guiding the BA 495 students working with IIP, added. "I've really been excited as projects like these are typically handled by MBA students. The strategy capstone program is unique. Our students come in, solve a 'live case' and leave more confident in how to apply their degrees to their careers. What they learn in the course will help them interview better, land more competitive positions, and enrich their undergraduate experience."
Developing a plan.
For business students, working with IIP can provide a valuable glimpse into the inner-workings of how research leads to innovation, how the tools of intellectual property (IP) operate, and how IP can be employed to increase the impact emerging technologies may have in the real world. In a practical manner, a basic understanding of the processes and mechanizations involved in commercializing technology provides business students interested in entering any number of fields another skill to leverage when approaching possible employers. Strategy capstone students working with IIP also have the benefit of learning the basics of technologies that they may have no previous knowledge of, but find themselves interested in nonetheless.
In order to help students understand the nuances of IP—in this instance an international patent application filed on Dr. Dusicka's BRB—Khoury worked with his students, walking them though the patent process, the language patents employ, how to understand the claims within a patent disclosure and ways to conduct prior art searches.
"But when it came time for them to get working," Khoury said, "they started by researching the seismic retrofitting market. This process has been a valuable exercise in that the students need to find the right information amidst a lot of 'noise' in construction markets. In order to inform their strategic recommendations they need to reconcile a great deal of quantitative and qualitative analysis, while applying strategic management theories. In the best case scenario, students will learn enough to take a technology to market on their own, to take what they've learned, get out there, and start their own businesses."
The students have been engaged and produced useful information with regard to possible threats to the technology and opportunities for a startup company.
—Dr. Peter Dusicka
Leveraging resources available across the University is one tool IIP uses to achieve its mission of supporting the use and increasing the impact of PSU innovations. The Senior Business Strategy Capstone course is one of those resources and the partnership between SBA's Strategy Capstone course and IIP is beneficial to everyone involved and could, in the long run, prove beneficial to the general public as well.
"This is a great resource for us and a great way to expose PSU students to PSU innovations, the world of IP, licensing, new and early-stage ventures," Richmond said.
"Initially, it was a lot to get our heads around," said Paul Messner, a student in the Strategy Capstone Course. "Though, I think as the term progressed, we were able to get a better picture of what was going on and what areas we could focus on to best help our clients. Coming out of the course I have a better sense of the innovations happening at the University and of how my actions as a business/accounting student can have an impact."