MSU Industry Skills Workshop: Are you ready to “grow”?

Graduate and postgraduate students, especially those in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), are considered to be a group of intelligent people. They work hard in the labs for years to discover new knowledge or advance science. However, when transitioning to industry, it is very common for these scholars to face a big skills gap.

The SearchLite identified five skills which graduate students should develop to improve the chances of career: Business Communication, Active Listening, Time Management, Creative Problem Solving, and Leadership.

To help graduate students bridge the gap between academic and industry, The SearchLite recently partnered with Michigan State University (MSU) to conduct an Industry Skill Development Workshop.

MSU Distinguished Professor and Entrepreneur, Ramani Narayan, Ph.D. and Omni Tech International Business Development Manager, Lee Walko provided career insights and coached the students during their workshop presentations.. Britany Affolter-Caine, Program Manager at University Research Corridor, joined the workshop as a special guest.

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“Your research is your baby!”

Students who want to transfer from academia to industry often face a gap between their academic experience, current skill sets and career plans. However, students who want to stay in academia should develop their skills also. Alessandra Hunt, postdoctoral research associate raised this question during the workshop. Alessandra’s lab discovered a drug to kill bacteria, so the Tech Transfer Office (TTO) performed commercial assessment,since the TTO has more industry connections. She didn’t understand why the academic lab team should learn market discovery skills for themselves.

Professor Narayan answered her question based upon his own experience: ”You should not feel you don’t have connections. You should ask questions from a business perspective. That’s a part of your learning. ‘Your research is your baby’. You are in the best position to grow it. Other people may help you, because that’s their job. But your research is your own baby, nobody can replace you.”

Developing industry skills to perform market discovery is not only a process to grow your “baby,” but a valuable experience to grow yourself. The exposure to industry during market discovery gives you more sense about your research,cultivates your skills to work in industry and helps you bring back more inspiration to academia.

Hands-on Skills Workshop

The SearchLite brought a real case, Stephan Wood Products, to demonstrate market discovery. Students were divided into 5 teams. Each team had 60 minutes to complete the tasks: design the value proposition, discover alternative market segments, identify a list of subject matter experts (SMEs), create a list of questions for the SMEs, and complete an elevator pitch. After the 60 minutes, each team had 5 minutes to present and 2 minutes to answer questions.

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It was a hard decision for the judges to choose the best team.


Finally, the team Sparty won the first place.

Michigan State University Industry Skills Development Workshop

Two hours might be too short to fully develop any skills, but we hope it’s enough to introduce students to new perspectives about industry career transition and their research. If you want to grow with us, The SearchLite is always here waiting for you to join us!

A Bio-based Field Trip to Michigan State University


We all fill up our tanks with gas on a regular basis and we see 87, 89, and 93, but have you ever noticed that many gas stations provide E-85 fuel,which is supplemented with biomass-derived ethanol; You might have also missed that even plastic bags, paint, printer ink and seat components in our cars are now also made of bio-based chemicals. However, what are bio-based products?

Bio-based products are made of non-food, non-feed agricultural products, which harness the solar energy and photosynthesis for industrial materials, consumer products and fuel energy. The importance of bio-based products in the U.S. and the global economy is expected to increase tremendously over time.

The SearchLite is collaborating with Omni Tech International on a this exiciting  to assist companies at different stages to understand the current trends and needs of bio-based materials. Although this is not an easy task, we luckily are surrounded by many  successful researchers and entrepreneurs at universities close by. Lee Walko from Omni Tech and Scott Phillips, MJ Zhang and Hui Yang from The SearchLIte decided to meet with Professor Ramani Narayan, who is a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemical & BioChemical Engineering in Michigan State University.

Professor Narayan’s  work covers an array of topic areas including: biodegradable plastics, engineering and design of natural-synthetic polymer composite system, and biofiber reinforced thermoplastic composites, to name a few. Professor Narayan is also  a successful entrepreneur. He has developed poly(lactic acid) materials technology and conducted engineering scale-up studies for Cargill Inc..  The technology is currently being commercialized by NatureWorks LLC. Beyond these technologies, he has also developed and commercialized other technologies, such as biofoam sheets for cushion packaging and biodegradable and recycling friendly starch based nanoparticle adhesives. In addition to his entrepreneurial accomplishments, Professor Narayan is also involved with setting up a biorefinery business with Zeeland and a Michigan agribusiness company to produce bio-based and value-added products. His students, Sayli Bote, Hugh MacDowell and Preetam Giri, walked us through their most up-to-date posters and introduced the new research findings to us.

Preetam Giri is presenting his poster.

Preetam Giri is presenting his poster with Saly Bote and Hugh MacDowell. From left to right: Hui Yang, Preetam Giri, Sayli Bote, Professor Ramani Narayan, Lee Walko, Scott Phillips, Hugh MacDowell.

Professor Narayan is also excited to open a class soon and invite The SearchLite to give a few lectures. Both of us are enthusiastic about sharing our knowledge on technology transfer and entrepreneurship to the local community, such as the professors and students at Michigan State University.

Katy Luchini Colbry, the Director of Graduate Initiatives, participated in the meeting also. Katy is working with MJ to coordinate a student workshop on campus in the near future.
Professor Narayan’s lab is located in the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, which helps organizations quickly and cost-effectively test out technologies and decide which ones to commercialize on a bigger scale. After meeting with Professor Narayan, we met with Chad Pastor, who not only gave an excellent presentation about the scopes and research areas of MBI, but also a very enlightening tour of the facility. During our tour, we noticed the elegant and cost-effective design of the facility and the streamlined process.

Chad Pastor showed Scott and Lee the MBI Plant.

Chad Pastor showed Scott and Lee the MBI Plant.


We got to really see and feel the famous AFEX (ammonia fiber expansion) pretreatment process and its products. After the tour, we walked out of the MBI research facility feeling amazed and intrigued by the technology and development. In addition, there is a great chance of collaboration between The SearchLite, Omni Tech, and MBI in the future.

(Edited by Christy Song and MJ Zhang)

The SearchLite at MSU Graduate Engineer Symposium

(Written by MJ Zhang; Edited by Christy Song; Photos by MJ Zhang)

The MSU Graduate Engineer Symposium of 2016 took place at the Breslin Center on March 31. More than 137 graduate students from 8 different engineer backgrounds participated in the poster competition. Nearly 40 representatives from 26 companies and industries were registered to participate in the 2016 Engineering Graduate Research Symposium. It was The SearchLite’s second time participating in this event. Scott Phillips, the CEO of The SearchLite, took part in judging the posters.



Selecting the best poster was difficult, because there were more than 100 works and all of them used State-of-Art technologies solving all kinds of problems in the real world. They investigated high density polyethylene-graphene nanoplatelet composites for the production of fuel lines and fuel tanks; they used evolutionary algorithms to optimize bioenergy crop selection and placement based on stream health; they used cellulose nanowhiskers to modify carbon fiber epoxy matrix etc. (Read abstracts of all the posters)


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February 2016, Newsletter





The SearchLite

enter The Community Monthly Newsletter, Feb. ’16

Throughout the month of February love was in the air as boxes of chocolates were exchanged, and heart-felt messages were shared. Although our messages might not end with XOXO, The SearchLite has plenty to share with you for the month of February!

Interested in who’s already a part of the IIR CommunityCheck out our members!

*Feel free to forward this newsletter to anyone that might be interested! We would also encourage you to share our monthly newsletters on your social media platforms so that others may become aware of the IIR Community.*

As always, please feel free to come to me with any questions or concerns you may have (

– Christy Song

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Transitioning out of Academia is scary, but you’re not alone!

Transitioning out of Academia is scary, but you’re not alone!

change mich state recruiting

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.

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Engineers, get out of the building!

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.

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December, 2015 Newsletter







go to site The SearchLite

The Community Monthly Newsletter, Dec. ’15

Happy Holidays from The SearchLite to you and your loved ones! This season is a time full of merriment, good food, better company, and warm carols. But, did you know that the famous “Jingle Bells” was composed in 1857 as a song for Thanksgiving and not for Christmas. Who knew?! Beyond this fun fact we have exciting news to share with you for the month of December.

Interested in who’s already a part of the IIR CommunityCheck out our members!

*Feel free to forward this newsletter to anyone that might be interested! We would also encourage you to share our monthly newsletters on your social media platforms so others may become aware of the IIR Community,*

As always, please feel free to come to me with any questions or concerns you may have (

– Christy Song

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October, 2015 Newsletter







The SearchLite

The Community Monthly Newsletter

Did you know that October is national chili month? I don’t know if whoever came up with this was trying to be punny, but it sure is the month where chilly is almost not adequate enough to describe the weather. Before the weather turns too cold we have some news that may warm you up!
– Christy

Interested in who’s already a part of the IIR CommunityCheck out our members!

*Feel free to forward this newsletter to anyone that might be interested! We would also encourage you to share our monthly newsletters on your social media platforms so others may become aware of the IIR Community,*

As always, please feel free to come to me with any questions or concerns you may have ( Read more

“Graduate Level Careers in Industry: Job-Searching, Interviewing and Careers”

 Are you considering a career outside of academia?

The SearchLite’s Innovators-in-Residence program presents:

“Graduate Level Careers in Industry:  Job-Searching, Interviewing and Careers”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014,  Chittenden Hall, Michigan State University Campus

Link to the presentation deck – Seminar 12-02-2014

Link  to the presentation audio recording – Audio Recording

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