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How to connect graduate and undergraduate bioengineering innovation ecosystems

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Undergraduate students are part of the heart of campus innovation, especially in the biological sciences. However, students looking to orient themselves in starting their entrepreneurial ventures often lack the appropriate guidance and advice to begin their work effectively. Graduate students, given their connection to faculty, campus offices, and other resources, offer valuable opportunities for undergraduates seeking to start their ventures. Encouraging communication and building connections between graduate students and undergraduates through educational seminars, inclusive centers and incubators, and networking can allow more undergraduates to pursue their projects.

Graduate Student Resources

Graduate Students have several advantages within their own innovation ecosystems that undergraduates can benefit from. Because of their involvement with research, internships, and masters programs on their campuses, graduate students have stronger connections with faculty members and local resources, like investors and incubators. Graduate students are more likely to be able to approach a faculty member with a venture idea and have their voices heard, and potentially move their idea forward. Meeting and asking a graduate student for direction and advice is often the quickest way to get yourself oriented, or to find faculty members, campus programs, off-campus resources, and innovation spaces.

Role of University Innovation Fellows

         The role of University Innovation Fellows in bridging the undergraduate-graduate gap in bioengineering is keyIt is important for Candidates to remember that, despite any obstacles during training, they will receive tremendous amounts of additional support after official induction as Fellows has been publicized on their campus. Once news of your status as a Fellow is announced, people will look to you as authorities and game-changers in innovation, and people will want to work with you. It is important for you to use this publicity as a means of generating awareness of bioengineering entrepreneurship among undergraduates. As an undergraduate yourself, you have the unique ability to emphasize the involvement of your peers in every innovative opportunity available, including those under mentorship of graduate students. The relationships that you build with faculty and administration will be bridges for other undergraduates to cross in their innovative pursuits.    

         As a Fellow, it is also necessary to consider charting a path for future University Innovation Fellows. You will have grand long-term goals of merging bioengineering ventures, and that is awesome. One of your short-term goals should be either creating or maintaining the flow of incoming Candidates. This includes practical elements such as funding and faculty advising, as well as the more abstract elements of creating a positive atmosphere for UIF and setting an impressive precedent with your work.

Campus Ecosystems

          The focus of your campus bioengineering innovation ecosystem should be undergraduate involvement. Simply put, inspire and connect the undergraduates with what they need, and innovation will happen as a part of the school culture. What is it that undergraduates need to pursue bioengineering innovation? They need: opportunities and spaces for design thinking, knowledge of how to transform an idea into a project, mentorship and support through the innovation process, funding and legal resources, and inspiration. They need to know that students can change the world

Programs and Accessibility

         The greatest way to generate undergraduate interest in a topic such as bioengineering innovation is to invite them to simply learn more about it. Seminar series (TEDx events, entrepreneurship conferences, etc.) should always be open to both graduate and undergraduate students. Anyone involved in campus innovation should be invited to speak, especially someone from the Tech Transfer office. Senior Design projects should also be available and encouraged as hands-on experience in the field of bioengineering. Patent information should be readily available so that students can pursue projects without concern for their legal rights. Undergraduates, especially science and engineering students, need to know that innovative or entrepreneurial work will be a practical possibility and that they will have access to resources and support. Once students know enough to get started, they are more than capable of taking projects into their own hands.

         Business model and pitch competitions should also be open and actively advertised to interested undergraduates. These events should get undergraduates excited about opportunities for innovation, equip them with the necessary experience and skills, and also connect them with all the right resources to stay engaged in bioengineering innovation. Additionally, these events bridge the gap between business and science. It is common for emerging scientists and engineers to steer away from business pursuits, and vice versa, but exposure to both fields is necessary for successful bioengineering entrepreneurship.

Tech Transfer Office

The Tech Transfer Office is an on-campus resource available at most universities that assists students, graduate and undergraduates, with the process of patenting new technologies and protecting their IP. Securing a patent is an integral part of the entrepreneurial process in many engineering ventures, so the tech transfer office acts as a hub of activity at the center of the campus’ innovation environment for undergraduates and graduates alike.

Through the Tech Transfer Office, undergraduates have the opportunity to access information about innovation centers, incubators, and ventures happening on campus. The Tech Transfer Office can also be used to connect with individuals, like law specialists or faculty members, that are involved heavily with the campus innovation ecosystem.

As an undergraduate, entering the Tech Transfer Office as a place to start allows one to quickly learn about how to begin communicating with different groups of graduates and undergraduates working on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Furthermore, the TTO can act as a base for creating informative seminar series, in which all students can attend to listen to presentations and talks by patent attorneys, faculty members, as well as experienced graduates about various aspects of the innovation ecosystem on campus, opening up both a space and the opportunity for discussion between undergraduates and graduate students.

Ask around the Office for important campus contacts, resources, and programs. They’re in touch with the graduate and undergraduate innovation ecosystems, and can help bridge the two.

Labs and Facilities in Bioengineering

Generally, bioengineering professors, labs, and companies seek out experienced graduate students to join them in their work, because of the in-lab technical skills of graduate students. In order for undergraduates to connect with the bioengineering research environment, speaking to a professor or faculty member about joining their research is essential. Seek out a professor who’s work interests you, and speak to them about their research. If an undergraduate can display technical proficiency, they’re more likely to be able to involve themselves with the research.

In research groups, teams that include graduate students as well as undergraduates naturally lends to more communication between undergraduates and graduates in the innovation space. Teams formed from both undergraduates and graduates help to further tie both ecosystems together.