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INSEAD MBAs Bring Scientific Innovations To Market

Students team up with scientists to build viable business models out of the scientists’ ideas at bootcamp weekend INSEAD scitech commercializer

At a business school known for its stellar reputation with top management consulting firms, we recently discovered an exciting new entrepreneurial programme that stretches MBAs' skills to the limit. 
INSEAD's bootcamps are a series of 48-hour hands-on entrepreneurship workshops designed for current students and alumni, the most recent of which was the Sci-Tech Commercializer for intrepid MBAs who want to learn to bring scientific innovations to market.
The Sci-Tech commercializer was launched by the INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship to match MBA students with local scientists to work on the commercialization of a technological innovation. As part of this, teams of researchers and students go through  an integrated program that includes a weekend bootcamp, sales and pitching workshops, internships, seed funding, and a newly developed course called Technology Venturing Practicum. The programme received the Association of MBA’s 2012 Innovation Award!
We spoke with Mary Sallee, one of the INSEAD MBAs who participated in the Commercializer bootcamp to learn about her experience of it. Mary is a US national, and worked as a communications executive with Philip Morris International in Switzerland, prior to INSEAD.
At the bootcamp, she was part of a team of four MBAs who worked with a scientist who had developed a new technology for a molecular spectrometer. The sci-tech bootcamp was a chance for Mary to enhance her MBA experience by engaging with a product and an area that she wasn’t familiar with. She said, “I chose the sci-tech bootcamp for two reasons. First, I felt it would be extraordinarily challenging to work on a product I was sure to know nothing about. Second, the idea of having an actual product to work with was attractive because it presented an opportunity for an independent study project and the experience to bring a product to market.”

The bootcamp was taught from a business perspective and although the science of spectroscopy might have been hard for the MBAs to grasp, Mary said it didn’t stop them from understanding the product’s unique sales proposition. She said, “Even some of our clients might not understand the science - they may just want to know whether the product can do what they need it to do.”

She worked with teammates who had backgrounds in IT project management, biomedical engineering and marketing in tech and media. As a team, the MBAs and their scientist reflected a lot on continuing to develop the product based on consumer needs, rather than just making arbitrary improvements. The bootcamp also walked participants through key considerations for sci-tech entrepreneurs who wanted to turn their ideas into money-making ventures. Some of these include:

  • What was the vision for the company and product?
  • How far do the responsibilities of the product extend to- would you manufacture a key component or would you just design?
  • What were the minimum requirements you would need to go to the market vs. what would be nice to have?
  • Who would use the product, how, when and why?
  • How to get the product to the market factoring in what else had to be done?
  • Were there other must-have products that needed to be developed and packaged e.g. user manuals and software?
  • What was the life-cycle of the product, did it need a warranty, and how long would it be before the customer wanted a newer version?
  • What would the capital expenditure be?

It also gave them a chance to pitch their ideas and receive feedback from teammates and investors. Mary’s biggest take-home from the event was the advice from the investors, “Pitch the dream the way you picture it!” The investors said that they saw billion dollar businesses in some of the ideas but the participants were being too modest about their product's potential.
Mary would like to start her own business one day, and the exposure to entrepreneurship that she's gaining at INSEAD seems like a structured way to set off. She said, "A large portion of INSEAD MBAs go into consulting, and because the recruitment process starts quite early, it's hard not to get pulled down that track from the beginning. However, INSEAD’s career services team brings in a number of speakers and advisors to prepare you for your job hunt and encourage you to consider different career paths. They teach you to think outside the box and not just apply for posted jobs. You are pushed to think about what your true passions are, sculpt your ‘ideal’ job, and then go out there to try and find it."
At the sci-tech bootcamp, Mary learned about other attributes necessary for being an entrepreneur like believing in yourself and in your ideas. She says, "When you hear entrepreneurship, people tend to think risk and freedom, but I learned that there is also a lot of structure required. Ventures seem less risky when you have done your research, developed a plan as well as a structure to support it. Freedom comes from being able to dream big and implement the plan the way you see fit – outside the confines of the corporate environment.  She continued. "I feel much more comfortable after having this experience, and I do plan on continuing with the electives tailored towards entrepreneurship".
Mary is specifically keeping social entrepreneurship on her radar and is considering volunteer work in Singapore to learn about social enterprises there. She is also co-president of INDEVOR, INSEAD's social responsibility club and plans to participate in one of the social impact catalyst's consulting projects later in the year.
In the meantime, her team has decided to continue working with their scientist to take the product to its next stages. We've asked Mary to keep us posted on how it develops!

Visit here to find out about INSEAD Entrepreneurship Bootcamps. Read more stories about students, alumni and programmes at INSEAD, here. 


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