One of the top ways to ruin a trade show, according to Entrepreneur Magazine: staff your booth with people who don’t understand all aspects of your product. There wasn't a trace of that potential pitfall at a December 6 trade show in the lobby of Kalkin Hall, where students representing multiple majors pitched products as part of their Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization course.
The interdisciplinary approach to business course (BSAD 230) taught by Associate Professor Erik Monsen, the Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, gave undergraduate business students a unique opportunity to work with graduate students in engineering, computer science and from the Larner College of Medicine to develop commercialization plans for new technologies created by UVM faculty and local entrepreneurs.
While business students discussed financial models, marketing plans and sales and engineering students focused more on technical features, Monsen encouraged all students to become equally knowledgeable of all facets of their product.
“It has been very helpful to hear different points of view and actually be able to communicate across different faculties, because one of the biggest barriers is actually communicating technology to someone who is not technology oriented,” said Kaiya Mallaburn, a business major and exchange student from Australia whose team presented a ground-penetrating 3D radar system developed by engineering professors Dryver Huston and Tian Xia to help municipalities map deteriorating underground infrastructure.
Tom Tailer, a member of the Vermont Haiti Project who has taught physics and engineering courses at UVM, devised a more environmentally sensitive method for producing charcoal in Haiti. His gasifier system has increased the rate that Haitians can produce charcoal – the main source of fuel in Haiti – which he expects to enhance with the addition of a press to produce charcoal briquettes.
“The UVM students have been very helpful with the business side and with improving the press and gasifier design as well as collecting more data on how to actually make the briquettes,” says Tailer, who is hoping to offer the Haiti Biochar Project through a women’s co-op in Haiti. “Like students said in their presentation, if it works in Haiti there are many other communities in the Philippines and Indonesia we could bring it to.”
Inventions designed to help people, turn profit
Maddie McCrae, a senior in the Grossman School of Business, said she was impressed by Tailer’s commitment to helping people in Haiti as opposed to just turning a profit. “I think it’s really special with Tom because it goes so far beyond just creating this technology,” she said. “He has built a personal connection with the people by going back time and time again to the same community and doing more than one project because he cares about the ultimate goal of improving the community.”
Other inventions at the trade show included a blood test to screen for breast cancer risk that is less invasive than a biopsy; and a software system that uses machine learning and AI to automate the job and internship process to connect local businesses with students for internships, volunteering, and part-time jobs.
“In past years, the course helped a Ph.D. student create a start-up out of research produced by him and his professor,” said Monsen, a former aerospace engineer and entrepreneur who teaches a similar course in the Sustainable Innovation MBA program in collaboration with the Office of Technology Commercialization and SPARK-VT program. “He eventually got a great corporate job offer, which led to industry connections that brought money and student internship opportunities back to the university. We’ve also had students help researchers win grants, which they might not have been able to get without the market research conducted by students.”
Robert Rowland, a 1977 alumnus who is a patent attorney in Virginia, was invited to the trade show by Monsen to provide feedback and expertise on the patent process.
“I was able to talk with students about intellectual property and patent research and what their thoughts were going forward in the patenting area,” said Rowland, who was in town to give a lecture for the SPARK-VT program. “From a marketing-communications point of view I thought the pitches were great, which is such an important part of the process. Clearly a lot of work had gone into each project. I think there is a lot of patentable subject matter here.”