New Course Unites SEAS and Business School to Fast-Track Ideas to Market

Columbia has world-class research and industry-leading business leaders—and a new class at the Engineering School looks to bring them even closer together.

Feb 03 2016 | By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry

Columbia has world-class research and industry-leading business leaders—and a new class at the Engineering School looks to bring them even closer together.

Sam Sia—Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

The new Research to Revenue 4000-level class, co-taught by Samuel Sia, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Olivier Toubia, the Glaubinger Professor of Business from the Columbia Business School, is the product of a University-wide mandate to increase cross-pollination between the schools. But more specifically, Sia and Toubia said, the course will foster engineering-business connections that could help bring more ideas to profitable life.

“We have two objectives—one, where we teach the students in both Business and Engineering what needs to be done to bring an idea from lab to market. But the secondary objective is that these students will actually meet each other, and the class will be a forum for engineers to meet MBA students and vice versa,” Sia said. “There’s demand from both sides.”

Toubia agreed: “We want to open business students to the idea that they can just look around campus to find technologies and research they could help bring to market.”

The class debuted this spring as a half-semester session open to advanced undergraduate and graduate students. Sia and Toubia put a premium on enrolling students with in-progress projects featuring exploitable intellectual property. With a shortened schedule, “we want to make sure people really get the most of it from day one,” Sia said. (The class also coordinates with Columbia Technology Ventures to use the University’s patented assets as projects.)

Sia and Toubia tapped faculty from both the Business School and Engineering to lecture on identifying and pursuing IP-based opportunities arising from research.

Olivier Toubia —Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers

“I’m excited to welcome a few speakers who are world-class researchers in those fields,” said Toubia, who is also a faculty member of the Data Science Institute. “I’m pretty humbled and amazed by the mix of people we have been able to put together.”

And the two professors bring their own specialties to the topic.

Toubia, who received his PhD in marketing from MIT, has focused his research on innovation, social networks, and behavioral economics. Sia is a serial entrepreneur in the biotech field, having founded Claros Diagnostics and Junco Labs, an SBIR-funded firm that was spun out of Columbia. He is also a cofounder of Harlem Biospace, a biotech incubator in Harlem that offers users shared wet lab space and entrepreneurial support.

And while the course is a pilot—“we’re trying to start small in the spirit of startups,” Toubia said—if all goes as planned, future tweaks could include lengthening the program to a full semester class or teaching multiple sessions. Sia and Toubia also said they’d consider moving the class to the fall semester, to better align with the Engineering School’s entrepreneurial competitions, including fall’s Fast Pitch and spring’s Columbia Venture Competition.

And even though it’s starting small, Sia said he’s excited for the ways coupling MBA expertise to the Engineering School’s research know-how have the potential to enact meaningful change.

“I’m excited that there’s now a chance for our Engineering students working on technologies to be matched up with Business students who are interested in working on hard problems like health or climate change or energy,” Sia said. “I think this is one of the more profound things that society expects from universities in general: for us to be doing meaningful, long-term research on hard problems. If we don’t do it, who will? And hopefully this is just going to be the beginning.”

From the forthcoming Columbia Engineering magazine, Spring 2016

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