The 2023 Commercialization Fellows are working to commercialize innovations in biotechnology, clean energy and robotics.

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Commercialization Fellows assess innovations’ potential

Ph.D. candidates Mehrnaz Sabet, Mokshin Suri and Ruben Trujillo make up latest cohort of the Cornell Engineering Commercialization Fellowship, an entrepreneurship program designed to help researchers who are immersed in a particular technology evaluate it through a business lens. The trio will spend a fully funded summer and semester exploring commercialization of their innovations. 

“I hope to gain the skillset necessary for taking biomedical technologies from the lab bench to the clinics to better improve human health,” said Trujillo, a Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate developing polymer micron-sized hydrogels for treatment of osteoarthritis (OA).  

Trujillo’s treatment technology is easy to administer, ameliorates patients’ pain and simultaneously delivers a wide variety of therapeutics.  

“I have always appreciated the integration of science and business to provide healthcare solutions to the public, and I am looking to expand my toolbox of knowledge to learn more about marketing, fundraising and strategy,” he said.  

Founded in 2016, the Commercialization Fellowship has guided more than 30 Ph.D. candidates through a proven, comprehensive process to identify potential market opportunities for their technology, cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and develop a strategic business plan for scaling up and going to market — all while avoiding common barriers that new entrepreneurs face, such as a lack of time and money. 

To start their experience, fellows complete an NSF I-Corps Regional Course hosted by the Interior Northeast I-Corps Hub to speak to potential customers and establish product-market fit. Over the summer, they will dive even deeper into customer discovery through NSF I-Corps Teams, which provides teams with up to $50K in funding. 

“I am especially excited about the customer discovery aspect of the program, as I hope to define a beachhead market segment for our technology,” said Suri, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. “I hope this customer discovery may also lead to important relationships with potential partners, opportunities for pilot programs, joint development and further commercialization.” 

Suri’s technology involves an electrochemical method to convert waste methane gas into valuable fuels like methanol.  

“We seek to counter the environmental, economic and societal impact of methane emissions,” he said. “This innovation should enable customers to avoid methane emissions fines, reduce their carbon emissions and develop new revenue streams.” 

During the fall semester, fellows will learn business strategies and best practices for fundraising, supply chains, intellectual property and more as they receive guidance and enjoy access to resources in Cornell’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.  

“I’m looking forward to learning more about the market demand and evaluating whether my technology can address a large enough problem,” said Sabet, a third-year Ph.D. student studying Information Science and Computer Science.  

Sabet has built an advanced simulation system for testing and evaluation of autonomous robots to ensure their reliability. 

“By going through a customer discovery process that is significantly different from the lab environment, I will be able to identify the best product-market fit and re-evaluate the value that my technology can bring to the market,” she said. “I’m also looking forward to the networking opportunity with mentors and business experts to help me grow and think differently in my entrepreneurship path.” 

Each fellow will work one-on-one with a mentor throughout the program, and they will also benefit from introductions to alumni, entrepreneurs and business experts in fields related to their product in the form of lectures, Q&A sessions, site visits and private meetings. 

The program will culminate in December with fellows presenting their final business plans to an esteemed panel of investors and alumni. 

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