- About Us
- For Business
- For Entrepreneurs
- For Faculty, Staff, Clinicians
- Contact Us
UK postdocs introduced to creating a startup company
LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 10, 2011) —Recent Ph.D. recipients and postdoctoral scholars learned how to create jobs for themselves and others by starting new companies at a May event hosted by the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship. At a luncheon in UK's Boone Center, former postdocs turned successful entrepreneurs shared the principles of transitioning from academic research to the competitive marketplace.
Panel members and former postdocs Mehdi Yazdanpanah from NaugaNeedles, Rajesh Khatri of Topasol and Brock Marrs from NuForm Materials and XtremeCarbons all echoed some of the same objectives for would-be entrepreneurs: find a customer, find a problem in the market, and don't be afraid to fail.
They stressed that the first priority for an aspiring entrepreneur is to find a pain point or urgent need in the marketplace and develop a solution for it.
"When you are working in academia on a technology, you think it is wonderful and everyone is going to want it," said Marrs, who was on the front end of starting UK spinoffs XtremeCarbons and NuForm Materials. "But that's not how it works. A lot of people start companies with an idea or technology and they haven't looked at it from the business perspective. You may have the world's greatest widget. But if nobody wants to buy it, then you just have the world's greatest widget."
Marrs explained that academic researchers are often more interested in the mechanism and why they received a certain result than the result itself. However, the focus in commercialization is solely on the product.
"Your customer is not really interested in why it works, they just want to know it works," said Marrs, who completed his postdoc at UK's Center for Applied Energy Research. "I have found the [business] pace is a lot faster. The quality of work doesn't diminish, but you learn to be more efficient because there is a time crunch. You are trying to solve a problem that the market has and you want to be the first solution out there."
Once a postdoc discovers a commercialization opportunity for his or her technology, Yazdanpanah and Khatri encouraged these researchers to explore a business venture focusing on the reward and not the risk.
"I don't think you should be worrying about failure because look at what you will learn in a year or two," said Khatri, who was a postdoc at the Center for Applied Energy Research. "It is not just about the technology. You learn the business side, commercialization side, market plan, business plan—just how to run a business."
Khatri is currently a research scientist with Topasol, a UK startup founded by Uschi Graham and located at Coldstream Research Campus.
Yazdanpanah, a former University of Louisville postdoc, started NaugaNeedles with $200 right after completing his Ph.D. in 2006. When Yazdanpanah first conceived his research in 2004, he had no money or experience running a business. He also did not find any job opportunities in Kentucky after graduation for people with his skill set.
He has since raised more than $2 million in capital including federal SBIR-STTR funding and Kentucky matching funds, established a manufacturing facility, and has 120 customers.
"If you believe there is a business opportunity in what you are doing as a researcher, then you should go after it," Yazdanpanah said. "It is not as scary as it sounds."
The Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship is also there to help. The Von Allmen Center along with the downtown office the Lexington ICC provides ongoing support and services for UK faculty, clinicians, staff, students, postdocs and community entrepreneurs who want to start a business based on their research and ideas. Services include market research, commercialization assessment, assistance with business plans and marketing strategies, connections to vetted service providers, and access to federal, state and private funding sources.
The UK Office for Commercialization & Economic Development is the university's nexus for commercializing UK technology and creating spinoff companies and jobs. The office manages UK's patent and technology portfolio, and includes ASTeCC-AgTeCC campus incubators, Coldstream Research Campus, Kentucky Small Business Development Center, Kentucky Technology Inc., Lexington ICC and the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship.