Energy I-Corps Summer Practicum educates more than inventors

This past summer, 19 innovators at the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory completed the third offering of Fermilab’s Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Practicum. A satellite program of the DOE’s more in-depth Energy I-Corps Program, Fermilab partnered with Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago to offer the program to students from both Argonne and Fermilab. The course was led by David McCallum, the new program capture manager in Argonne’s office of Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach, and Melissa Byrn, director of innovation programs at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.  Fermilab staff from the technology engagements team served as teaching assistants and mentors throughout the course.

The workshop introduced participants to the basics of value proposition, customer discovery, Business Model Canvas, market assessments, and other innovation topics. Participants put these concepts into practice by forming five teams that explored technologies to learn the skills it takes to bridge the gap between innovation and direct social impact. This year’s technology topics included a portable electron linear accelerator for radiation therapy for cancer treatment; a mobile MRI magnet to be used in biology labs; MARS simulation software suite; lightweight oxygen concentrator and versatile imaging systems.

“I learned the ABCs of the business model,” said scientist Arun Saini from APS-TD division. He also encouraged Fermilab scientists, engineers and graduate students to take this course. “You learn how to apply a consumer’s perspective to your ideas and innovations, as well as the first essential steps to be laid out to realize your idea into a product.”

Mary Curtis, who works in the Chief Project Office quality section at Fermilab, registered for the class to understand the tech transfer process from the inventor’s point of view. “I am neither a physicist nor an engineer and don’t develop technology as part of my role at Fermilab,” said Curtis. “I took the course to learn more about the tech-transfer process at the lab and the DOE from a different perspective.”

During the practicum, Curtis was assigned to work on the versatile imaging systems technology and recognized how helpful it was to have real-life examples to use when working through the Business Model Canvas. “It’s a well-structured course agenda with interesting lectures, led by knowledgeable people,” she said.

The cohort met once a week for seven weeks, and participants “usually spent 4 to 6 hours on outside preparation and homework,” said Saini. “Even the vocabulary of the course was new, but this, in turn, also helps you to write a good proposal or research grant.”

Information to register for Energy I-Corps Cohort 14 can be found here.

Graduates of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Practicum Cohort 3

Renee Adkins, Cristian Boffo, Steven Boi, Katie Carter, Mary Curtis, Zoltan Gecse, Hemanth Kiran Gutti, Yichen Ji, Shaorui Li, Maria McCall, Shekhar Misha, Benjamin Parpillon, Donato Passarelli, Jonathan Pesavento, Eduard Pozdeyev, Arun Saini, Melanie Turenne, Fang Wan and Robert Zwaska

Practicum lecturers and mentors

Aaron Sauers, Cherri Schmidt, Mauricio Suarez, Charles Thangaraj and Stephany Unruh