Leading Edge: Nation’s First Ph.D. Innovation Program
By Kathryn LoConte
Breaking new curricular ground, Thayer School is training a new generation of technology leaders with the nation’s first doctoral-level engineering Innovation Program. The program provides engineering Ph.D. candidates with entrepreneurial training for turning complex research discoveries into innovative applied technologies.
Students admitted to the program augment their doctoral studies with entrepreneurial-centered courses such as finance, accounting, patent law, marketing, and organizational behavior. Thayer School has developed two entirely new Innovation Program courses taught by former dean Charles Hutchinson, who co-founded the multi-million-dollar therapeutic protein company GlycoFi, and by John Collier, the Myron Tribus Professor in Innovation. The first of these courses is ENGG 300: New Venture Creation, a comprehensive overview of the commercialization of emerging technologies. The second, ENGG 321: Introduction to Innovation, is a doctoral-level version of ENGS 21, Thayer’s signature undergraduate course in creating new products. In addition, Innovation Program students will complete a three- to six-month internship at a start-up or other entrepreneurial enterprise.
The first Innovation Program students are pursuing a variety of research and entrepreneurial ventures. Ashifi Gogo is co-founder of the Ghana-based start-up mPedigree, a company that authenticates medicines in developing nations where drug counterfeiting is widespread. Dax Kepshire founded SustainX, a company that is developing compressed air energy storage technology for enhancing the value of renewables such as wind and solar. Preston Manwaring anticipates that his future start-up will focus on traumatic brain injury assessment in hospital triage and intensive care, work that is related to his doctoral research. And Andrew Giustini, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, plans to develop new medical technologies. “The only way to develop new therapeutics that will actually be used clinically is to work closely with industry and understand the business world,” he says.
These four select students are at the start of a deliberate trajectory. “Our intention is to keep the program small and focused,” says Dean Joseph J. Helble. “Admission is not automatic. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program prepare additional materials demonstrating their creativity and interest in innovation and entrepreneurship. Applicants then pass through an additional screening and review process. We expect to admit four to six Ph.D. students per year to the Innovation Program, building to a total enrollment of 20-25.”
The program itself, says Helble, builds on Thayer’s “long history of innovation at the faculty level. We anticipate that the Innovation Program will increase the amount of patent activity from Ph.D. students at Thayer and the number of companies started by our Ph.D. graduates. We also expect to train a new generation of professors who are interested in putting their work to use by starting companies and developing products that benefit society. This program will help cement Thayer’s reputation as a school focused on innovation.”
—Kathryn LoConte is assistant editor at Dartmouth Engineer.
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