Dec 31, 2009
91
0
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
One of my career interests is to end up in a position where the research I do yields, among other things, "commercializable" opportunities (think licensing opportunities or start-ups). Rather than just starting a debate on whether MD/PhDs are fit to make good business decisions (I know we probably aren't), I'd love to hear from anyone who shares my interests and has taken steps to pursue it. Books, classes, projects, seminars, networking, etc? What have you or your peers done?

For me, my commercializing interests originate from working in a research institute focused on device and product driven research. I did a BS in bioengineering and got a year long dose of product design process through it. I've had the opportunity to compete in an undergraduate and now a graduate school-wide entrepreneurial contest with modest 4-figure cash prizes. I've also gotten to co-file a couple provisional patents. I'm at the point where I want to 1) round out my entrepreneurial education so I can "talk the talk" and make good basic business plans and 2) find a way to develop a track record that says "hey, I can not only do research, I can develop a product." The first point I haven't figured out how I want to go about addressing. The second point I'm trying to address right now through independent product-driven side projects with a group of like-minded grad/med students.

I haven't seen any recent discussions on this topic, so I'm hoping there are people out there full of interesting perspectives and experience to share :)
 

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
I also have an interest in making the products of my biomedical devices research into something commercially useful (that is, something that will eventually get implemented). I'm finishing up my MBA before entering an MSTP, which has pretty much covered all the bases :p

The MBA is a very good deal, but it's quite a commitment and isn't logistically or financially feasible for everyone. Some fellowships do exist for MBAs, and some programs will let you do a dual MD/MBA, so integrating one into an MD/PhD might be possible. Outside of the US, most MBA programs are one year long, so going abroad may create a better timeline for you.

With that said, you obviously don't need to get an MBA, or even formal education, to do good business, just like you don't need to get a PhD to do good research or an MD to do good medicine (it may just be a hell of a lot harder, or illegal). The important thing is that you learn the fundamental features and dynamics of business. Doing that requires careful study and paying attention, just like learning bioengineering and medicine.

I should note here that many people, especially career academics or even just academically successful people, have a low opinion of the intellectual difficulty of business, and so might have scoffed at my stating that understanding business requires careful study. It is true that the absolute basics of business are preposterously simple (Sell things that people want at a higher price than what it costs you) compared to the absolute basics of, say, biology (what is life?). This fact creates problems.

Because the basics of business are simple, people can think they understand the entirety of the field after giving it a cursory glance. This is true for scientists and doctors looking at business as well as those actually in business. Furthermore, those business people who are not thinking deeply about the situation still know enough to achieve a modicum of success, and so don't get feedback indicating how much they're missing. This is true both for people actively in the business world and those studying it in the classroom, such as many of my MBA peers. This is especially true for those who specialize, as the apparent dimensionality of the problem space decreases and then they really think that they've got everything covered.

In truth, business is ridiculously complex, as is its cousin, economics. To truly approach wisdom in either of those fields requires studying a lot of reality and thinking about it with your good bioengineering medical scientist brain :D The best way to do this is to become familiar with many areas of business. As a list off the top of my head, I would be hesitant to say that someone "knows business" unless they understand:

Human Resources
Operations
Finance
Accounting
Macroeconomics
Marketing
Organizational Design
Strategy
Management, Leadership, and how they're different

Note that a lot of that is obviously math, or can be expressed mathematically. Surprise! Business is a feature of the social world, which is a feature of the natural world, and it can be described through mathematical principles! Put on your scientist cap!

That was probably more information than you were expecting to receive. I hope it's useful. I can talk more, if you like ;)
 
Jan 17, 2010
550
1
0
Status
I asked this question once to someone whose business knowledge I respect, and they said "you learn about business the same way you learn how to swim. You can't start until you're in the water. Classes and degrees and talking about it are all fine, but you learn by doing."

Take it for what it's worth. One person's view.
 

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
And I say that's also a perfectly legitimate way to learn about business, in the same way that's it's a perfectly legitimate way to learn how to make cars. You can progress that way, but you'll be a hell of a lot more effective if you educate yourself on the principles of vehicles and engineering before you start with building full fledged vehicles. Yes, drive a car before you go to school, just as you'd get a blue collar job before you study business, just so you have some notion of the basics of what is going on. But education and deep thought make you much better at the "real deal".

There are plenty of folks that did great business work without educating themselves beforehand. There are plenty more people that have produced a ton of value that have sought to educate themselves on the principles of what they're doing.

What Musclemass's source is basically suggesting is to learn business principles in a subconscious way, ignoring all the conscious processing your brain is able to do. The business functions of finance, operations, accounting, economics, and even marketing are very explicitly consciousness-driven mental processing, and I'd argue that the rest are as well. Anything with identifiable principles of dynamics, particularly things that can be easily quantified, can be turned into mathematical concepts, and then consciously considered. And education and learning beforehand helps that immensely.
 
Dec 31, 2009
91
0
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
Thanks for all of thoughtful input!

It's nice to hear from people with shared interests.

While I can certainly appreciate the sentiment that you learn by doing, I'm still hoping to get down all of the basics starting with a book. I'm hoping for something that is efficient and reasonably comprehensive for a first resource I can use to procrastinate from doing my studies.

While there are A MILLION business books out there, can anyone make a suggestion and tell me why they recommend it?

Thanks Thanks :)
 

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
Unfortunately, I know of no such Tome of Business. However, I'm a big fan of the internet. And the internet always provides:
http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Wikibooks:Business_bookshelf

That and Wikipedia could probably get you started. Perhaps others know of physical books out there. Self-directed study using a plethora of resources, touching base with human beings that know more than you, and looking at examples/case studies of businesses in action will take you far.

I would recommend checking in on some business news sources, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, etc. These will not necessarily give you accurate assessments of what's going on with a company or an industry, because in some cases know one knows for sure how the dynamical system is operating, but they will give you data. This data will let you see areas of the business reality that you may have never thought of, and so you'll do research into those areas and get a fuller picture of the business world. Additionally, the news will tell you what people think about in the business world, which is a different thing, though related.
 
Jan 4, 2010
113
3
41
Status
Pre-Medical
My .02 cents, as an entrepreneur going back to school - business instincts are born, not made. The value of an MBA exists mainly in its networking value and as a signaling device. And even then, an MBA is (in my opinion) such a weak degree that it is only useful if it is from a truly connected and prestigious program - even more so than law degrees.

In business there are of course different kinds of people - those who are good at instinctively coming up with ideas for what the market wants, those who are good at launching new companies and inspiring others to help them do so, and those who are good at being managers. Ideas are a dime a dozen, so idea people who can't execute the launch phase are of no value. Management is not exciting but is important - and I think management skills are more teachable than the core entrepreneurial talent.

Having a bachelors degree in an intellectual field from a very good university, and also having spent years working as an entrepreneur (because I love business also) - I can tell you that "business ain't rocket science." However I do feel that success in business takes a kind of talent that is difficult to teach, and a drive to work hard that is every bit as intense as medicine.

If you have the passion for business - you will find a way to turn your research into commercial opportunities.

One thing absolutely that I think is a success factor is being a people person - if you like people you will naturally meet more and build more relationships. And relationships matter in business (see my point about why top MBA's are valuable). This is a weakness of many scientist/academic types.
 
Jan 4, 2010
113
3
41
Status
Pre-Medical
Build - another question for your situation specifically:

Do you have any concrete product ideas right now? If so, have you considered a business incubator program like Y-Combinator (although I think that particular incubator focuses mainly on pure tech companies) or Adeo Ressi's The Founder Institute? These programs may not make your career - but they are designed to give you a boot camp in start-up culture and methods, and how to deal with the money people - VC's, Angels, etc. With your education you'd be a great candidate for these programs.

They also will help you very quickly meet a lot of connected people in the venture capital and start-up world. If you're naturally good at building relationships they can be good opportunities.
 
Dec 31, 2009
91
0
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
Calimed,

Thanks for your input! Your points are thoughtful and it makes sense to me that an MBA alone does not make you a successful entrepreneur. I'll follow up on some of those incubator type programs available and see if anything looks like a good fit for me.

To answer your question, yes I do have multiple concrete product ideas. As an MS1 in an MSTP, I'm trying to look at approaches to gaining useful experience in entrepreneurial product development, taking things to a point of marketability, while at the university for ~7 more years.

One of the things I've been caught on is the best way to do this from an academic setting. Right now, I've been working with a team of like-minded graduate students in medicine and engineering with complementary interests to work within the university channels to develop a couple products. The pluses I see to working through the university are available funding, support through the university's faculty and technology licensing office, possibilities to build academic record (awards, publications, etc.), and create a track record that shows I can launch product ideas from an academic setting. The minuses are dealing with many layers of added bureaucracy, lacking clout in the university system, lacking full control, cultural resistance to activities that may be perceived as "mercenary", etc.

I don't plan on Bill Gates-ing my training midstream (though I guess he didn't plan to either), so I've mainly been operating within my university's system. I've gotten a chance at networking events to meet with some local investors looking for ideas to run with, and our group has been well received. But they're outside of the university, and I don't know how that would be managed. I am acutely aware of my own lack of business experience and naiveté to how real technology start ups operate, but I've had some success in taking research to functional prototypes in the past. I see it as if you don't aim high, you certainly won't get there by accident, so I hope for the best and do what I can to get there.

I'd be interested to hear yours (or anyone else's) thoughts on the topic of entrepreneurial activities through academics or feeding into industry.

Also, do people have any first (or second) hand knowledge of what an MSTP student is allowed to do along the entrepreneurial lines while in the program?
 

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
t makes sense to me that an MBA alone does not make you a successful entrepreneur.


Oh, definitely. At some point you actually have to do stuff. My central point is that the effectiveness of your doing of stuff can be greatly improved by higher order learning about the doing of stuff before and during the doing. But no matter how much stuff you learn, it doesn't matter until you do something with it.

Also, an MBA is by no means the be all and end all way of business education. It just happens to be a convenient, pre-made package, which is particularly appealing to some folks and not to others.

Now on to your actual questions. :p

Universities vary greatly in their approach to tech transfer. Some don't provide any resources and look down their nose at "industry", while others are sane and provide encouragement and resources for getting ideas out of the lab and into the larger world. As such, you won't be able to get universal statements of how this process works in academia as a whole, just because there's so much variation. However, you're at Pitt, if I'm not mistaken, so you're in the latter, industry-friendly category, as you probably already knew! So you're off to a good start!

My suggestion to you is to find one or more "business savvy" partners and work through/with them to transform your ideas into business ventures. You've made mention that you're working with a team of med and grad students; are any of them business aware? The things I'd be looking for in a partner or multiple partners are:

1. They know stuff you don't. In this case, you want this "business savvy" stuff.

2. You trust them. It is very possible as a venture progresses that one or more partners can get squeezed out or generally abused, without legal recourse. If you're not the designated "know stuff about business law" person, then you're vulnerable. Nine times out of ten this is not a concern, but it's better to work with people you consider honest, fair, and forthright than not.

3. They're on the same page as you. You and your partner(s) need to have closely aligned ideas for where you want the project to go, how important the project is to you, what you're willing to invest in the project, etc. As you get more experience in business ventures this rule can be relaxed somewhat, as it is possible to have people with differing goals all happily working together, but it's generally easier if you're on the same plane. You don't want to be extremely passionate about your project while your partners say "Meh", and you don't want a partner to expect you to go full time while you're wanting to finish your degrees.

4. They want to teach you and to learn from you. This feature is specifically for your case. You want to learn business savvy, but if your partners just wave you off whenever you try to see what they're doing, that's a problem. On the flip side, a business person that has no interest in what the techies are doing is, generally speaking, an inferior business person. There are certainly exceptions, of course, but for a technology-oriented startup it's a distinct disadvantage for folks on the business end to not know what they're selling.

I'm suggesting you get partners because you feel (probably correctly) that you have much to learn, and it will be much more efficient from you to learn from others than all on your own. Calimeds' suggestion of a business incubator is definitely a good one (and I'm a big fan of Y-Combinator), but I think you'll still do better on virtually every measure if you're not going it alone.

Now how to get a partner? I'm not familiar with the Pitt and CMU business schools, but that might be an easy place to start. Just phone the program and say you're a science grad student looking for business people to work on a startup. You can also look outside of Pittsburgh, which in many ways can be more fun. If you like, PM me with more information about you, who you're working with, your idea(s), etc., and I'll see who I know and where. Hell, I myself might be interested in working with you, depending on what you're doing!
 
Dec 31, 2009
91
0
0
Pittsburgh, PA
Status
MD/PhD Student
Alacast,

Thanks for the useful advice. My current student team is tech/med heavy, so I'll definitely take up your advice about hunting around the business schools for a "savvy" partner to round out our team. We're meeting with a tech transfer manager at the university as well as some faculty who have their own start ups to get some input on the best way to steer things over the course of our training. I'll let you know how things go.

I'm curious, you said you're wrapping up an MBA and then heading into a MSTP. Are you applying this coming season? In general, where are you trying to take your career? How are you trying to leverage your MBA? What's the plan for the using the dual degree?

As always, anyone else who has thoughts to share, go ahead and do so!
 

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
I'm finishing up the MBA in 2.5 weeks, then heading off to an MSTP in the fall (haven't finalized where yet). I did some kick butt computational neuroscience research on the side during the first year of the MBA, which was a significant gold star on my applications, but in general I think the MBA has been more of a liability than an asset to many of the programs I applied to. But fortunately not all! :) I also was notably behind on clinical volunteering and shadowing, though, so that is a confounding variable.

As for my career, I intend to be a medical scientist that works closely with industry as the technologies I create reach a commercializable level. I'll almost certainly start out in a university, doing ye ol' 80/20 research/patient split, but I wouldn't have a problem consulting for, working for, or starting a company later down the line; none of which precludes being a researcher or a clinician. I'm not married to any particular level of involvement with industry, because I acknowledge that the most sensible route will be a function of a whole suite of variables that won't be set until some future date (the economy, the technology, the university, my personal life, my business partners, etc.).

So, I have/will have a whole bunch of skills and knowledge, and can/will be able to do whatever is necessary to make the technologies I want to see become a reality. And that's awesome :cool:
 
Last edited:

alacast

10+ Year Member
Dec 10, 2008
125
0
0
Indiana
Status
Pre-Medical
The real coup is getting the training without making any interest payments. The path to getting a sophisticated skill set to attack a particular problem is frequently not all that complicated, but financing the venture can be.

Unlike a straight MD or straight MBA, I'm not committed to making a whizzbang salary in N years time, so taking on major debt isn't wise. On the flip side, without having debt hanging overhead, I have and will have much more freedom to take my career where it needs to go to accomplish my goals, without nearly as many monetary concerns. However, people on this board already understand this principle; its one of the central advantages to the MD/PhD.