To those in business who believe successful entrepreneurs are born rather than made, Drs. Angus Kingon and Steve Markham politely point to some facts. Students from the College of Management's HiTEC program have commercialized more than
a dozen technologies over the past decade, creating 300 jobs and raising $120 million in venture capital. "We give students a roadmap to go from technology to viable business start-up," says Kingon, a professor of materials science and engineering who co-founded the program with management professor Markham.
Initially called Technology Education and Commercialization, or TEC, the program is among a growing number of efforts at NC State to teach entrepreneurship. They include a twist on the required senior design project in the College of Engineering and a new sequence of courses within the business management minor in the College of Management. "The majority of our students are not going to be entrepreneurs, but most will eventually be in a corporate setting where the skills they learn here will come into play," HiTEC Director Roger Debo says.
Noting most similar courses are taught using case studies, Kingon and Markham have created a comprehensive methodology to teach the process of starting a technology-based business, with a focus on finding a product within the technology to best meet market needs. "Part of the problem in commercializing technology is that, if you put it in a product that doesn't work, a good technology gets tossed out with the product," says Debo.
HiTEC taps NC State's Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) as well as research labs at places like IBM, Becton Dickinson, and the EPA for intellectual property students can use to build companies. Working in teams, students research markets, talk with potential customers, and draw up business plans for their firms. Some class projects later make the jump from hypothetical to reality, such as medical diagnostics firm LipoScience and voice-to-animation software developer LIPSinc, both based on technology licensed from NC State.
Because HiTEC has been tied so closely to the student calendar, technologies organizers learned about after the start of fall semester couldn't be studied. So an independent nonprofit, NC-TEC, has been formed to look at the commercial potential of other University innovations, which Debo hopes will make the program a greater resource for OTT. Gene screening firm ArrayXpress is the first company developed through NC-TEC, and others are in the pipeline. "We want to nurture start-ups," he says, "and we want faculty to feel good about the process when they're done."
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