IVR class benefits researchers, students

August 31, 2007

by Jennifer Eddignton

This summer Tech’s Innovative Venture Research class is offering students from high school to graduate school level hands-on experience in the real world marketplace and experience with new, innovative technology.

“I took the class because I wanted to interact in the business world,” Jeff Bertrand, a graduate student of business administration and one of 10 members of this summer’s IVR class, said. “It’s the only class I’ve been able to take where I’ve branched outside of school.”

Students in the class, which is primarily offered during the summer and fall quarters in the Center for Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, focus on helping Tech researchers map out the marketplace for their proposed intellectual property.

The class was started three years ago with funding from the National Science Foundation Deborah InÂȘman, coordinator of entrepreneurial studies for the College of Business, said.

Inman said the students are asked to play a key role in the technology transfer process.

“A researcher develops something, he reports it, it transfers out into the marketplace,” Inman said. “The class helps think about the commercial aspects.”

Students are asked to uncover marketplace conditions, Inman said.

“The students look at the marketplace, [and ask] ‘who could buy this, how many would they buy, and for how much,'” Inman said. “[Students] research lead users, which is a person that adopts an early technology, who wants to be on the cutting edge.”

For example, Inman described a class project where they were presented with a tiny lens a researcher had developed that does not have to zoom mechanically, it works from liquid force pressure. Students were asked what could be done with the lens.

“Students go on a fact-finding mission, uncovering marketplace conditions,” Inman said.

Over the course of the quarter students will develop a Technology Commercialization Assessment Report, which is submitted at the end of the quarter detailing the research process, Inman said.

High-school student Kevin Zhu, of Canton High School in Detroit, Mich., is a member of this quarter’s class and enjoys the unique nature of the assignment.

“We are taking new technology and forming new products out of it,” Zhu said. “It’s not all about lectures and tests, we are placed in groups and devising a real business plan.”

His class this quarter is looking into the commercial possibilities of a material used to generate electricity from mechanical motion.

“It’s material you can compress and it produces electricity,” Zhu said. “We are thinking if we can apply it to running shoes, you can charge a battery wherever you go. We could even put the material on wheels.”

Inman said the class has proven beneficial to university researchers.

“It has allowed us to focus our research efforts through finding information,” Inman said. “Not every research project is commercializable, it helps the researcher understand some things can be marketed and other things aren’t meant for the marketplace.”

IVR research has been productive for helping ideas turn into companies as well, Inman said.

“As a result of the class we’ve had numerous companies start up,” Inman said. “The research helps them get off the ground.”

Zhu said the benefits to the actual students are numerous as well.

“The class is very applicable even for those not going into business,” Zhu said. “It’s important for any field. Any idea needs to be applicable to the marketing world.”

Inman also said the practicality applies to all majors.

“It’s like job experience,” Inman said. “You’re given an assignment that is real life. Companies do this type of research with new products. You already have the experience.”