Budding European entrepreneurs learn from UAH experts in the field

Kannan Grant

A recent one-week biotechnology entrepreneurship course for European university students that was funded by the European Union got a boost from two University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) entrepreneurial leaders.

Kannan Grant, director of the UAH Office of Technology Development, and Dr. Krishnan Chittur, professor and interim director of the Chemical & Materials Engineering Dept. as well as founding chief technical officer of GeneCapture in Huntsville, were part of the United States contingent at the Crash Course in Technology Entrepreneurship held at the University of Tuscia, Italy, by the BIOINNO Knowledge Alliance.

The course was designed to engage students entrepreneurially in the principles and steps needed to protect intellectual property and boost it into the commercial world. BIOINNO is a two-year project funded by the European Commission that brings together a knowledge and innovation community through collaborative partnership across Europe and the U.S. It is an innovation-driven initiative to connect industry with academia within communities of practice - ranging from biotechnology and engineering to life sciences and medicine.

"They are trying to get students to think differently, to look at opportunities with a commercial view," says Grant. "How do you think entrepreneurially?"

Discussions in which the UAH representatives participated ranged from general theory about entrepreneurial thought processes to the practical aspects of developing products, finding investors and building a business.

Dr. Krishnan Chittur

"We told them what intellectual property is, we told them what it takes to start a company, where are the needed resources and how to go about finding them, how you structure it and what the problems are that you are going to have with a startup company," Grant says. "We were sort of telling them the reality of things."

Over 40 students from the undergraduate to doctoral and post-doctoral levels, successful entrepreneurs, patent attorneys, technology transfer experts and academics from Belgium, Bulgaria, England, France, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Scotland and the U.S. were in attendance.

"Our role was to tell them what we have done, what our experience has been and what things they need to think about in building a company," Grant says. "They've got a lot of PhD students who are really trained academically, but very few of them look at going out into industry, solving problems and thinking entrepreneurially about how to look at problems and how to apply solutions to them commercially. We're trying to expose them to, and teach them, how we do it in the U.S."

BIOINNO has designed a New Learning and Teaching Methodology for entrepreneurship education that is a collaborative community. Through a blend of innovative, integrated curricular and co-curricular programs, students experience the business world as it is.

I heard a lot of ideas from the students regarding what they are working on and why. They had many questions about raising money for their ideas, how to pitch, how to present themselves and so on.

Dr. Krishnan Chittur
Interim director
Chemical & Materials Engineering Dept.

Dr. Chittur discussed his experiences as an academic turned entrepreneur, including the idea that led to formation of the company and some of the hurdles and challenges in that process.

"Some of the students were science and engineering types and some were business types, so it was a good mixture," says Dr. Chittur. "I heard a lot of ideas from the students regarding what they are working on and why. They had many questions about raising money for their ideas, how to pitch, how to present themselves and so on."

The goal is for the fundamental business skills and entrepreneurial mindset students cultivate at BIOINNO to equip them to make a difference in Europe and around the world. Students are paired with business experts to help guide them through the process of starting a biotech business. They step inside some of the best-known biotech startups, see how they work and learn from their business culture. Students see where the magic happens and meet the people who are driving the technology culture in the world.

"We are very glad to have seasoned experts in entrepreneurship and technology commercialization be a part of this European project," said the EU Coordinator of the BIOINNO Project, Dr. Antoine Harfouche, who is a professor of biotechnology and bio-entrepreneurship for the Brain Gain program of the Italian Ministry of Education and Research at the Department for Innovation in Biological, Agrofood and Forest systems of the University of Tuscia. "To be at the forefront of entrepreneurial education, we need to collaborate with the best minds and learn from best practices around the globe. The collaboration with our partner institutions, such as UAH, provides our constituents such opportunity and has proven to be very successful."


In white shirts in foreground, UAH Office of Technology Commercialization Director Kannan Grant and Chemical and Materials Engineering Dept. Interim Director Dr. Krishnan Chittur at the BIOINNO crash course in Italy.

The students warmed immediately to the message and became inspired, says Grant. He told them two key strengths in the U.S. are that entrepreneurial failure is considered by investors to be a learning process rather than an end, and that the U.S. continues to draw the best and brightest entrepreneurial minds from around the world because of its business environment.

The U.S. proclivity to diversity is an inimitable advantage, Grant says.

"A lot of countries around the world are looking to the U.S. to see how they can use universities as an important component of their economic engine," he says, "and this is a part of that effort."

The need to spark entrepreneurial thinking in Europe has been underlined by recent headlines about economic recession in the European Union, Grant says. Next year's Crash Course in Technology Entrepreneurship will be held in Belgium, and he anticipates that UAH will again be invited.

The other partners involved in the BIOINNO project are The University of Cambridge, UK; Artesis Plantijn University College, Belgium; The SPACE European network, Belgium; The ADAPT Low Carbon Group, UK; Emerald Marketing, Italy; SPYGEN, France; and the Bulgarian Development Agency.

About the BIOINNO project

Bioinnovation and Entrepreneurship: A Knowledge Alliance for Biotech Entrepreneurship Education - LLP - Project no. 539427-LLP-1-2013-1-IT-ERASMUS-EKA. A video of the BIOINNO course is here.

To find out more about the project please visit the BIOINNO website or email the Project Coordinator at DIBAF, Antoine Harfouche at aharfouche@unitus.it.


Kannan Grant

Dr. Krishnan Chittur

Jim Steele