June 20, 2016 is a date to remember in the history of The SerachLite’s Innovator-in-Residence Program, because it is the first time that we held an event at the Department of Mechanical Engineering in our own backyard at the University of Michigan.
About 15 Mechanical Engineer PhD students attended the event. Four outstanding alumni, Katherine Avery, Laura Wojcik, Michelle Callaway, and Szabolcs Sovenyi, joined the discussion as well.
Professor Katsuo Kurabayashi kicked off the event by showing many successful alumni, who transitioned from academia to industry. The SearchLite Innovator-in-Residence Program is a great opportunity for graduate students to have a taste of industry by participating in hands-on real projects.
Scott Phillips, CEO of The SearchLite, challenged the students regarding their current understanding of the industries which align with their areas of research.. He then explained what The SearchLite is, who The SearchLite’s clients are, and the methodology The SearchLite uses to conduct Customer Discovery. Lastly, Scott used three real cases as examples to demonstrate the work at The SearchLite.
During the final open discussion, a student said he just wanted to be an engineer, and wondered if the business skills would be useful? Both Michelle (General Motors) and Katherine (Ford) responded quickly and stated that if you work for a company you have to deal with a lot of things besides engineering, so the soft skills are extremely useful.
When in a company or an industry, it is easy to overestimate the importance of one’s product or service. That is why they hire companies like The SearchLite, to provide different perspectives. When we are students, it easy to underestimate the importance of soft skills that are not clearly aligned with our majors, but those are the skills that will make you stand out. As the alumni all said, “Mechanical Engineers Need Soft Skills too”.
Visha Krishnan transitioned from academia to The SearchLite (TSL) several years ago and now has transitioned again into the world of intellectual patent (IP) licensing!
From her involvement at The SearchLite, Visha gained varied experiences in startups and consulting and, for the next stage of her career, she wanted to pursue negotiation and licensing. TSL focused more on consulting,market validation and customer discovery research, while her new position focuses on commercialization (technology transfer). She compares her role to being a broker of technology. “We just make things happen. We help people find the right customer company,” Visha said. This new position allows for Visha to take every single skill obtained throughout her academic and professional career to date and provide a whole round experience. Rather than sitting behind the scenes and working from the bench, she is able to help get the science out into the market. Visha recommends this field for any Innovator in Residence or any academic that loves science, loves to learn new things, and desires to be involved in new areas of translating research. “Every single skill that I have picked up at TSL, I will be using it in this job and any job in the future, Visha stated. Her skills obtained included market assessment, business involvement, people management, working with startups, and strategizing. With her dynamic experience, Visha was able to apply those concepts to her new position of approaching potential licensees and finding people to interview for potential licensees.
The SearchLite had the privilege of being invited to McMaster University to conduct an Innovators-in-Residence Workshop on March 3rd, 2016. The invitation was extended by the Graduate Student Life Team, part of the School of Graduate Studies. This event was made possible by a connection between Scott Phillips from The SearchLite and Catherine Maybrey from McMaster University back in 2014 when Catherine hosted a “CV to Resume Webinar” on behalf of The SearchLite.
Catherine began her career with dreams of the tenure track, and along the way discovered something much better – the ability to take the best of what she loves about academia and to apply it in practice helping others. Her approach to career development is grounded in labour market research, hiring practices, and innovative use of technology to make service available to all graduate students on their timetable. She previously served as the Alumni Career Coach, where she advanced services for graduate students including workshops and videos on Transforming Your CV to a Resume, The Academic Job Search, The Non-Academic Job Search, Transferable Skills, and Graduate Student Boot Camp.
The Innovators-in Residence (IIR) program is a community-based learning platform. The IIR program provides a unique opportunity for Ph.D. graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from all academic disciplines to gain experience in innovation commercialization, acquire insights into market risk assessment and build relationships with leaders in industry while trying to solve real-world problems.
The McMaster University Graduate Students who participated in the workshop learned about the principles of Product-Market Fit and Value Proposition Design through live engagement in case studies which represent real Market Discovery Challenges recently completed by The SearchLite. Value Proposition Design is one of the most critical skill sets needed to be a successful inventor or entrepreneur and a key element of the Lean Startup Process and Business Model Generation. Understanding Value Proposition Design will also be a valuable skill for academics in transition to industry with interest in various aspects of Corporate R&D, Engineering, Product Management or Marketing.
Students broke down into teams and were assigned a case study. Their assignment was to identify the best -Product-Market Fit given the Value Proposition for a particular invention. Inventions included (1) Portable Ammonemia Detector (Stanford University) – A low cost, portable, simple-to-use device designed to rapidly detect elevated ammonia in a drop of blood; (2) Rapid Decoupling & Isolation (Oakland University) – Concept with ability to sense a sudden event and rapidly decouple load-bearing, structural joints in order to isolate occupants from the shock of the event; (3) Mobile Power Generation (Diversified Solar) – Hybrid solar system for mobile stand alone and grid-tied solar-based power generation and other inventions.
The teams all did an amazing job. With no background on the principles of lean startup and only one hour to study their inventions, they all presented to a mock group of venture capitalists at the conclusion. It was amazing how they were all able leverage the individual strengths, skills and experiences of their individual team members. After the presentations, Scott had a chance to have lunch and visit with the students to learn more about their future plans and answer questions about The SearchLite and the Innovators-in-Residence Program.
Transitioning out of Academia is scary, but you’re not alone!
Visha Krishnan, former Market Discovery Director of The SearchLite, recently attended a career event for Doctoral and Postdoctoral scholars interested in exploring careers outside of academia at Michigan State University. She participated as one of the panelists for the Innovation/IP portion of the Expanded Careers Conference, along with, Cindy Bott (Partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP and Tom Herlache, Technology Manager at MSU Technologies). The event featured a portion where the guest panelists individually explained how they arrived at their current job position and they shared with the scholars what it is that they are currently doing.
Are you an academic in transition? Would you like to try an experience that may broaden your career?
The SearchLite recently shared some of our projects with graduate students at Michigan State University’s School of Engineering. Several of our Innovators-in-Residence are from MSU, so we wanted to share our knowledge from our Market Discovery Challenges with fellow Spartans and hoped to expand our community at MSU.
sThere are many tools that can be used within the realm of Customer Discovery Research for early-phase startups, including interviews, phone engagements, surveys, field trips, etc.. It is beneficial to have all of these tools in your Customer Discovery Toolkit and know when to use which tool based upon the circumstances. Our experience with Giggso is a perfect example of how a variation of tools may be more effective than using just one approach.
Giggso has become one of the most well-known projects in the history of The SearchLite. For the past 3 months, we have been talking about this project in all of our weekly project update meetings, and when we weren’t talking about it, we were thinking about it. Giggso is one of the longest and toughest Market Discovery Challenges yet it happened to be my first project!
If you define success as the ratio of outcome over goal, I can’t say Giggso is a successful project. However, from an experience gaining perspective, people grow faster in the process of tackling tough problems rather than being handed easy solutions. I grew tremendously because of Giggso.
The SearchLite recently hosted a NIH BEST career panel discussion at Michigan State University. The panel discussion about career transition was held at the offices of MSU Technologies on Thursday, December 17th. The panel featured three speakers and focused on career opportunities in Life Sciences for PhD Candidates and Post Docs. Students from the MSU BEST Program and Wayne State University BEST Program participated in the career panel. BEST stands for Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has selected and funded 17 research sites in the US to participate in the BEST Program.
Job Searching – the how to, the where to, and the who to….
image credit: http://www.pce.uw.edu/career-insights/job-searching-simplified/
Job searching is one of those moments in life that is loaded with emotions. There is of course the fearful aspect – when you think that you are not capable enough compared to the guy next door who has a loaded resume, phenomenal network, and captivating charisma. There is the excitement – I mean this is a new step in life that’s full of opportunities and different possibilities. Then there’s anticipation – job searching is tedious and takes time. And finally there’s frustration – it’s not easy and usually you don’t get a job on the first try. But with all this said keep in mind that were 5.8 million job openings in July, 2015. So, be hopeful but rather than keeping it an emotion turn the hopefulness into action.
image credit: phdcomics.com
[The SearchLite’s Note] To stay in academia or not is a common question to ponder for graduate students, especially for the Innovators-in-Residence at The SearchLite.
You are not alone. According to The 2015 Nature survey of graduate students, more than 60% of the above 3400 respondents claimed that they were “likely” or “very likely” to continue their work in industry because of the severe competition, heavy workload, and limited income of academia. However, some graduate students chose to return to academia after experiencing a career in industry because it “could satisfy her scientific curiosity”.
Finding a Career Path…In an infinite maze of thought, concern, and pressure
Image credit: Wikia
“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs
When introduced to the concept of a career path, I had to first do a little research to make sure I understood what exactly that meant. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, career path means: “the way that you progress in your work, either in one job or in a series of jobs.” I had the definition, but rather than being satisfied, I wanted to know how to put the idea into application.