The role of research from a big company’s perspective

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In this blog article we had the pleasure to interview Fabrizio Salvucci, Innovation Manager at GRUPPO SAPIO, a multinational company that produces industrial and medical gases and that - through its controlled companies Sapio Life, BioRep and Pazienti.it - operates in the public and private healthcare sector and life-science space.

We are glad to have GRUPPO SAPIO as one of the main sponsors of MARS42 and, because of that, it will offer one scholarship for Life-Science researchers to attend the School.

 
 

Please, explain us how the Life-Science unit of GRUPPO SAPIO works.

Even though the GRUPPO SAPIO has started its story within the application of gas for technical usage, since many years it has developed a Business Unit completely dedicated to products and services within the Life Science sector.

The offer that today we are able to provide is designed - at 360° - on the patient’s life: through the supply within the hospital environment for the acute phase and through homecare services in order to guarantee territorial continuity.

Today we support thousands of patients in Italy with different diseases that range from Respiratory to Cardiological and recently also dialysis patients.

Our services are able to support the patient and the care giver thanks to a mix of solutions that starts from supplying the drug, the medical device, logistics services, health personnel and monitoring the vital parameters of the patient.

Our Group has always been sensitive to the topics related to the Digital Transformation and - in fact - we have recently acquired Pazienti.it, an online platform for “Health disclosure”.

How do R&D and Innovation collaborate within GRUPPO SAPIO?

In the last couple of years the R&D Department and the Innovation Team have been at the centre of various reflections inside the company, as well as marketing, which in many business contexts covers one or both these roles. From this point of view GRUPPO SAPIO is not behind. In our company the R&D & Innovation Team are made of a single group which uses cross functional and adaptable teams depending on the needs of the business at hand. They have the role of researching, finding and experimenting potential ideas with the objective of discovering new markets and seize opportunities from unsatisfied needs of today’s market.

We then have Marketing, which comes to play in a second phase, when it’s time to think about Market Access and collaborating with the Sales Department. Thus, Marketing has the objective of discovering new segments in already existing markets.

Which changes are happening in companies in these areas?

The market has been imposing more and more on companies to redefine their organizational processes, and the areas with the biggest focus are the ones from which is expected an interpretation of the market shifts to gain more business opportunities. Up until recently it was believed that a dedicated team of internal personnel (divided between R&D and Marketing) was enough to guarantee the development and growth of the company.

We are living in a completely different era now where digital transformation is causing a total shift of the market. It’s getting harder and harder to hypothesize who will be our competitor and/or which products and services will actually answer the unmet needs of our core market. From this point of view companies are starting to realize they need to structure themselves more and more with innovation teams and new managerial figures (eg: Chief Innovation Manager, Chief Digital Manager) to support the more classical  C-Level Marketing figures.

Why did GRUPPO SAPIO decide to support MARS42?

We are and will be more and more looking for projects that allow us to reflect on Innovation themes and will allow us to get in contact with talents invested in themselves and interested in reflecting on new concepts, in order to diversify our business. We believe that MARS42 is the kind of initiative that allows us to fully pursue these objectives.

Regarding the scholarship sponsored by GRUPPO SAPIO, you can find more information here.

 

What I've learnt from MARS42 as a Post Doc

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I remember one of my Biology course profs would say: “ science is built of many devoted tireless ordinary persons with a fair dose of intelligence and a sprinkle of geniuses here and there”.

I later learnt one of the implications of this phrase: unless you are a genius, building a career in science is not immediate and it requires many extra skills to succeed. Academic system absorbs a very small percentage of PhDs as permanent scientists, which means that if you decide to go for it, your bet is very high and risky. It will require logistical ability, resilience, firm ambition, and big sacrifices on aspects of “adulthood” life that have popped up by the time you are a postdoc. So, you might find yourself leaving a city or country by the time you were feeling home and setting good relationships, selling your house belongings in one day to have just two baggage of 23 kgs each, or delaying a family project, or living away from your partner and kids and flying every weekend to see them, just to mention some.

But... what happens if, at some point, all these efforts do not bring a successful outcome? What if the sacrifice becomes not worth anymore? To be honest I was afraid of ending up as many friends and colleagues: breaking into pieces after realizing that the scientific career was over, with no clue of what to do after.

I was facing this dilemma when I learnt about MARS42 summer school. And just like a train that passes by I decided to get on board. All I wanted by that time was to confute one  rooted idea I had: that  “no job”  would be worth doing apart from science. If I could succeed in doing so,  then any future would be easier to face. 

I found a very stimulating environment in MARS42; organizers, as well as faculties brought hot topics into discussion and translated them into interesting entrepreneurship realities. This helped me to think of myself into different professional roles, something I had never done before.  I also found very encouraging to see that one of the focus of the school was to put at the centre our scientific skills to use them as strategic values for any future job.

After attending the course the job was done: I found myself delineating a concrete plan B to academic system. 

For sure MARS42 is a good start if you are willing to find new challenges and a professional grow beyond academia.  Specially if you- like me- do not want to give up your scientific spirit and believe that critical thinking has to go beyond basic research; that they can live outside  “in other forms of jobs”  and have an impact  in society.

 

Learn how to leverage your scientific skills to have an impact within the innovation space.

 
 

A (so far) happy transition: how I found my way outside academia

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When I started my PhD back in 2010 I had a clear plan in mind: becoming a PI and having my own research group. I could not see myself other than an academic and, honestly, learning and studying were the things I was best at.

Then after three years, once I submitted my thesis, things were not so clear anymore. I wasn’t sure about becoming a PI, but mostly I was getting tired of the academic environment. I saw many colleagues struggling to get permanent positions and keeping moving from one country to another. Not sure that was the future I was planning. I started looking around for help. I got an appointment to the local career service to find out that they knew as much as I did. So I did what PhDs are expected to do: I applied for postdoc positions. At the end of the day, I liked research and I was still pretty good at learning and studying. I got a position in a Visual Neuroscience group. It was different from the PhD: it was challenging, many new things to master, a mixed background group to interact with. I enjoyed a lot doing research there. Still, I wasn’t happy and, most of all, my career wasn’t going anywhere. That’s frustrating: I wanted to quit, but I felt I missed all the skills to apply for a job outside academia. I didn’t know what kind of job to do and even what I was able to do.

During the second year of postdoc my institution held MARS42, a summer school on entrepreneurship. Its goal was to give PhDs tools to apply the scientific methodology in the “outside world”. I enrolled. In two weeks we heard so much stuff, many speakers came to talk about their work as R&D, startupper, founder. Some of them had a PhD. It was galvanizing. At the end I went to my PI and I told him that I was going to quit academia.

I still didn’t know what to do but I had learnt few useful things:

  1. PhDs have a whole set of useful transferable skills! Scientific methodology, analytical mindset, ability to learn fast, to name a few. It is important to recognize and to value them.

  2. Being a scientist does not strictly mean working at the bench. Research and experimental approach are required in other jobs too. Think of startups.

  3. I won’t find a job related to my research field, most likely, and I have to learn new skills to fit in other positions. But, hey, learning is what I do best.

  4. Networking is key: talk to people, keep in touch, ask for informal interviews. You never know where opportunities are.

With all this in mind I started applying for positions outside academia. Every time I talked to someone I stressed those transferable skills to differentiate from the rest of non-academic applicants. Many companies never replied, but I was prepared and I never regretted leaving academia. Others were intrigued and I started having my first job interviews.

Then one day someone from the summer school reached out to me. He was about to start his own project with a couple of friends and was recruiting a team, people with good analytical skills and experimental approach. That was my very first opportunity outside academia. Today I’m part of that startup team, we’re four PhDs out of five people. At the same time I’m also working with another company on machine learning and analytics. And I keep learning new things!

Of course this is just the beginning of the story and many things are to come. But isn’t it true for anything in life?

 

Learn how to leverage your scientific skills to have an impact within the innovation space.

 
 

Facing the “PhD crisis”.

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What do you look for in MARS42?

A job? Skills to manage a start-up? A better life condition? Higher work satisfaction? New experience? A different point of view? Nothing of all of this?

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When I applied to the MARS42 Summer School 2017 I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had no clear plans about founding a startup, neither was I actively looking for a job. I was simply curious about new job opportunities, maybe looking for a better life condition, work satisfaction, or willing to collect a different point of view and a new experience.

I got something more than what the organizers wanted to teach me.

I learnt that the “PhD crisis” is a well-known problem, almost a research topic by itself, with more and more studies, publications, statistics and, why not, opportunities. The motivations behind it are diverse: more and more difficulties in finding a stable position, poor economic stability, the need to constantly move to different countries, the passion drop. I found people similar to me, full of passion and energy to fight this situation and make a positive change.

I learnt that, regardless of the job one wants to do, the need for a great willpower remains!

In many cases, research would need more managers and leaders, people able to share passion for their own work and give motivation to research groups. In this sense, the interaction between universities and companies should be bilateral. Although their apprach to work is very diffferent, in both cases it is useful to keep in mind and to apply concepts as innovation, marketing and also personal idealism.

Taking part to multiple Job Fairs after the School, I had the chance to do job interviews and get into a network of people I did not know about. I found the new standpoint and the new vision I was looking for. Finally and because of that, I decided to stay in Academia. I think that this experience will be useful to me in future, whether if I decide to stay in research, looking forward to well-leading a research group, or not. The most important thing I understood is that, for a researcher with a PhD, research is not a cage without exits, but a choice.

The credit of excellence schools like SISSA offering opportunities like MARS42, is to make this choice as easy as possible, opening this caged Academia toward the wide world of work and vice versa, because there is a lot to learn!

The “PhD crisis” is a serious problem not only in Italy. Admitting its existence and reasoning on it in order to find a solution is the first important step to pave solid bases for the future. My opinion is that The Doers, in collaboration with SISSA and other companies involved, begin to plant a seed that in the early future will bring important results.

MARS42 is not the standard fair where you will find a job, but surely it is the right place to face your personal “PhD crisis”.

 

Learn how to leverage your scientific skills to have an impact within the innovation space.

 
 

PhD evolution: From PhD to Science based Start-up

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There’s a moment in a PhD student life in which a thought pop up in mind. I don’t know exactly how it works, if it is a sudden jump on a Monday morning, or maybe a low voice arising slowly day after day, but it is a fact, sooner or later your research will be kicked off from your mind by another question: “what’s next?”

First option: post-doc. Are there more funds available for me? Is my group able to offer me a post-doc position here? Yes, but for how long? One year? One year, renewable? Three year? Should I look for a different research groups? But where? US? Canada? Switzerland? France? And then? How long should I move before getting a Tenure-Track… The deadline is approaching!

Second option: industry. Maybe I can leave academia and find a good position in a company. Yes, but which one is doing business in my field of research? I would prefer to continue working at least within my field of interest… Am I going to stay stuck in desolate R&D department where they are not really aware of what science means? I’m sure there are good companies where I can continue developing the projects I am interested in, but how to look for them? Which are the tools available for a successful job search? Which keywords shall I use? And then… how to explain who I am? How to give the right value to my profile?

There’s a third option: am I able to pursue my research project and transform it into something useful for people now? Usually research produce huge impact of people’s life, but in 10-15 years, and what about now? Now that I have to reinvent myself and my career? Can I try and give value to people with my research?

I am going this way. I am a PhD in Physics, I have worked for more than 3 years on neuromorphic circuits, trying to develop algorithm for hardware based neural networks. Now my PhD has ended, so how to use all these competences? I am trying the start-up way!

Because of a Master of Science project, I entered the world of medical ultra-sound diagnostic and I grasped the idea of applying concepts of machine learning to medical data. So I took again that project, evaluated the work done and called back the guys I worked with a couple of years before. Shall we work again on this?

A journey started to discover who would get more benefit for such a science based offer. I started discussing with a lot of medical doctors in my town, studying their activity, their daily life, which are the problem they are facing in order to perform good and reliable diagnosis. Technology is there, ultra-sound scanner are really powerful instruments, so what’s the issue? It is only talking with them that I discovered that the first obstacle stays in recognition and interpretation. Such a machines are powerful, but only if you know what you have to look for. That’s the opportunity I was looking for, where I can apply my skills and create a positive impact on people now. I created a team, that now counts five people, four of which are PhD! Technology is not an issue with such a strong team of competencies, but rather the methodology is. We as researcher tend to deeply investigate each feature of a topic before planting It down and build on it. Start-up is the complete opposite: they say fast-prototype and fail fast. Actually it is true! Before developing a full solution, an entrepreneur has to test the robustness of the problem he/she aims to solve and how appealing a solution can be on his/her customer! Fully develop a product is only a waste of time if you still have to test its traction on people.

This is only an issue that a good team has to face and to overcome in order to reach the goal, but actually, science based start-up is the closed thing to a PhD research project I found.

 

Learn how to leverage your scientific skills to have an impact within the innovation space.

 
 

PhD in Wonderland. Dream or Reality?

Talking with other PhD Students and colleagues of mine, it emerges that the main drivers for choosing a PhD in science is passion. We love what we are doing, the project we took part into becomes a piece of us day after day. Most of us are not requested to stay into the lab such a large amount of hours, nevertheless who has never spent a night in there? It happens so frequently to see lights still turned on in department's labs late in the evening and, to whom is able to observe deeply, immediately a thought comes up in mind: “Research is going on there!”

That probably is the most meaningful definition of research: free-minded students' energies devoted to push knowledge ahead and to discovery.

On the same hand, everybody of us is aware of the whole set of difficulties that have to be faced every day in doing recognized quality research. Low salary per number of worked hours, lack of investments in infrastructures and materials, difficulties in publishing research in high ranked journals and most of all, the tremendous lack of opening positions in academia that would allow to proceed in a permanent career in university. It naturally makes arise a quest for positions all around the world that, although it allows a faster growth both from the professional and the personal side, it also demands a considerable amount of years of instability and precariousness...

The problem begins to be recognized worldwide. Recently a number of articles from respectable scientific journals, such as Nature and Science, addressed the problem of increasing amount of opening PhD positions in the US that would never be absorbed in academia [1]. It is the American Institute of Research (AIR) that in 2014 takes the task of quantifying the phenomenon of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) PhD holders that rather than running for tenure track, exit the university to dive into the market [2].

Totally, 61% of PhD holders find a place in Industry, while the amount increases to a high 74% when only Engineering is considered. Interestingly, the 88% of graduates with doctoral degrees working in Industry at the survey moment comes from three major fields: Engineering, Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences (fig. 1) with an overall amount of 57% of PhD holders still working in Research and Development at different levels: Basic Research, Applied Research and Development; the remaining 43% is involved in management and other professional services. The combinations of these data make arise the need for soft skills to be acquired alongside with technical skills. Communications to general public, project management, basics in economic balance and market trends are missing competences to STEM PhD holders that may heavily affect the transition to industry into a tough job even for highly qualified researchers.

  Figure 1. Distribution of PhD degrees of workers in Industry at 2014 in the USA. Source AIR [2].

By the way, despite the impact that it can have on the researcher’s working habits, this kind of transition could provide benefits from a financial point of view. Indeed, OECD research states that higher education provides consistently higher salary with respect to secondary level education, to an amount that is about +150% higher for the US and about +100% in EU [3].

Data definitely state that pursuing PhD is a profitable investment, but it is also as much evident how risky it could be running for an academic career. Indeed, focusing on the Italian scenario, statistics collected by the University and Research Ministry and elaborated by PhD and Researchers Association (ADI) make it clear that how only 8% of researchers will be absorbed into the academic path within 2020 [4]. Moving to the UK scenario, this percentage reduces to about 3.5% when Permanent Research staff is considered and drops to 0.45% for a Professor Position (fig. 2) [5].

  Figure 2. Diagram illustrating transition points encountered in typical career for scientific careers following a PhD. Source The Royal Society [5].

Talking to other PhD Students and colleagues of mine, it emerges that the longer they are into research, the more they become concerned about their future. Sometimes the will for staying into academia comes mainly from the lack of knowledge of what there is outside; Industry is often perceived as subject to money rules, as the killer of the free-spirit driving discovery.

Probably we will persist in being deaf to what data tell us, despite our analytical mindset, but sooner or later we will have to deal with the tough choice between academia and something else. It will be better to know more about the rivals.

 

Learn how to leverage your scientific skills to have an impact within the innovation space.

 
 
 

References:

  1. Cyranoski D, Gilbert N, Ledford H, Nayar A, Yahia M, Education, the PhD Factory, Nature 472, 276-279 (2011)

  2. Turk-Bicakci L, Berger A, Haxton C, The Nonacademic Careers of STEM PhD Holders, Broadening Participation in STEM Graduate Education, STEM at American Institutes for Research (2014)

  3. OECD (2015), Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en

  4. V Indagine ADI - Il reclutamento di assegnisti ricercatori a tempo determinato di tipo a e b, ADI Associazione Dottorandi e Dottori di Ricerca Italiani. https://dottorato.it

  5. The Scientific Century, securing our future prosperity. The Royal Society. ISBN: 978-0-85403-818-3, Issued: March 2010 Report 02/10 DES1768

Fincantieri e MARS42 - Comunicato stampa

Con l'ingresso di Fincantieri come main sponsor e del suo Vice President all’Innovazione, Massimo De Benedetti, si consolida il rapporto fra MARS42 - Research Beyond Academia e il territorio giuliano.

Organizzata da Sissa, l'International School for Advanced Studies di Trieste e TheDoers, innovation company torinese, MARS42 è la prima Summer School che fornisce a studenti di laurea magistrale, PhD e Post-Doc in ambito scientifico, una guida per fare ricerca senza perdere di vista il mondo delle imprese.

Venti docenti per venti studenti.

Due settimane di full immersion, per acquisire nuove competenze e imparare ad applicare la propria esperienza di ricerca in aziende innovative. Sviluppare un progetto di startup, gestire i processi di innovazione in un contesto industriale, trasformare i sogni in progetti concreti affiancati da docenti che sono manager internazionali, imprenditori e accademici.

Data e Luogo: 10-21 Luglio 2017 presso l’Università SISSA di Trieste.

A chi si rivolge MARS42?

  • Ricercatori che vogliono imparare a gestire progetti di Innovazione all’interno di un’azienda e capire come questi stiano evolvendo sempre più verso il concetto di “Open Innovation”.
  • Ricercatori che vogliono capire come lanciare una nuova avventura imprenditoriale con il proprio progetto scientifico, imparando a gestirne la crescita e lo sviluppo sul mercato.

“Per sviluppare questa Summer School siamo partiti da un’analisi approfondita dei bisogni dei ricercatori, investendo molto tempo nel confrontarci con loro per comprendere quelle che sono le reali esigenze. - afferma Enrico Cattaneo Partner di The Doers e ideatore del progetto. Ciò che è emerso, è un forte interesse da parte dei PhD di voler esplorare il mondo al di fuori dell’accademia e capire come poter applicare le loro competenze scientifiche in contesti industriali. Ed è proprio su questo che , il team composto da Irene, Daniele e Alessandro, ha strutturato il programma dei corsi erogati durante MARS42”.

Attraverso un approccio basato sulla simulazione e su attività di Role-Playing Game, gli studenti avranno la possibilità di calarsi in un contesto reale e di apprendere in modo interattivo come lanciare con successo un progetto di innovazione.

Main Sponsor è Fincantieri, uno dei più importanti complessi cantieristici navali del mondo, azienda che basa il suo successo proprio su Innovazione e Ricerca

Sono entusiasta di far parte della faculty della Summer School perchè penso che MARS42 possa veramente colmare il gap che abbiamo tra Accademia e Industria e sono particolarmente contento di poter aiutare ricercatori ambiziosi a meglio comprendere come utilizzare le loro competenze scientifiche anche al di fuori dell’accademia al fine di avere un impatto in aziende innovative. “ afferma Massimo De Benedetti, Vice President all’innovazione di Fincantieri.

 

MARS42's Speakers: Introducing Giovanni Rizzo, PhD, MBA from ZCube

As MARS42 is approaching, today we are thrilled to present you Giovanni Rizzo, one of the speakers that you will meet during the Summer School.

Dr. Rizzo got his Biology degree at the “La Sapienza” University of Rome, his PhD in Oncology and his specialization in microbiology at the University of Perugia, Italy, his post-graduate qualification in preclinical and clinical development of drugs from University “La Bicocca” Milano and his Master in Business Administration (MBA) at the HULT International Business School, London.

He has extensive experience in drug discovery and development and in medical device development: head of biology of Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc. and he worked as consultant of Intercept Pharmaceuticals; Consultant of Index Ventures, a venture capital firm; CEO of iDNA Ltd, a drug discovery service company; Vice President of Yaqrit Ltd, a spin off company of the University College London; member of board of directors and chief of the innovation division of ZCube, Zambon group.

He is an entrepreneur and an investor himself of the London Business Angels (LBA) and MedCity Angels, London, and Italian Angels for Biotech, Italy. He has a honorary senior lecturer position at the University College London (UCL) in the Institute of Liver and Digestive Health (ILDH).

During his speech at MARS42 he will share his experience with ZCube - the Zambon Group's Corporate Accelerator - in order to let participants understand how a corporation can leverage on startups to keep innovating and what it takes - as young entrepreneurs in the field of science - to get access to such a great opportunity of collaboration.


MARS42 was made possible thanks to our Main Sponsor Fincantieri.

MARS42's Speakers: Introducing Cristina and Andrea from Impactscool

Science fiction today overcomes reality, and our present and future address us with questions that affect ethical and social aspects of our lives, which for a long time have not been questioned in the history of humanity. Will we be human, will we be at the centre driving of technological change that awaits us in the future, or will we be watching, passively?

We face an epochal change, dictated by technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic, blockchain, 3D printing, genetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology.

Not only are they powerful more than any other seen in history, both taken individually and in their combined and converging effects, but they also grow at a speed that makes it difficult to perceive them until they have already come to mass adoption.

These technologies and deriving changes insist on ethical, social and institutional issues that for centuries have not been questioned that strongly, requiring a major reflection on the part of everyone, as human beings.

Never as in the present era, it’s been necessary to learn how to face and think about the future, learning to imagine future scenarios and make the choices of today, according to the direction in which we want to go tomorrow.

Impactscool arises from these considerations, an organization aiming to bring debate, training and collaboration on these technologies for free in schools and universities around the world. A global movement that starts from Italy, boosting critical thinking, creativity, ability to collaborate and flexibility: skills that are the basis of our own humanity, and which will be essential to tackle and drive the future in the best direction.

Impactscool was born from an initiative by Cristina Pozzi and Andrea Dusi, entrepreneurs and exponential technology experts, investors and advisor.

They both studied at Singularity University in 2015, an education center funded by Google with headquartered in a NASA park in Silicon Valley.

In the past, Cristina and Andrea founded Wish Days (Emozione3), a successful Italian case sold to Smartbox in 2016 after reaching 40 mln euros in business in 2015.

From Research to Market Impact: The FREME Story

Introduction  

Research and innovation are often mentioned in the public debate as key fundamental ingredients for the creation of a prosperous and successful future for society [1]. With this rationale in mind, the European Commission over the years has been consistently supporting international research endeavors through the different framework programs of research and development. More recently, with the Horizon 2020 program, the total budget devoted to this policy reached €80 billion [2], a remarkable injection of financial resources devoted to exploratory activities expected to contribute to the construction of a more competitive, sustainable and equitable society (often referred to as “smart growth”). Despite such efforts, the European Union has been experiencing a significant gap towards United States in the ability to generate prosperity for its population. The graph below shows the persistency of the gap in terms of GDP per capita for over twenty years. A situation that impacts Europe’s number one political priority - employment -  generating unemployment rates almost twice as high as those present in USA.

 Figure 1: Evolution of GDP per capita in real terms 1995-2016 - Source: Eurostat

Figure 1: Evolution of GDP per capita in real terms 1995-2016 - Source: Eurostat

A study on science, research and innovation performance in the EU published by the European Commission in 2016 [3] while discussing the situation depicted above states: “The EU has fantastic strengths. It is open, diverse, and hosts excellent institutions. With Horizon 2020, the Union funds research and innovation on an unprecedented scale. But we face three major challenges. First, we need to strongly improve our track record in getting research results to market and technologies developed in Europe are often commercialized elsewhere. Second, although Europe generates more scientific output than any other region in the world, we often fall behind on the very best science. Third, Europe punches below its weight in international science cooperation and science diplomacy”.

This post intends to focus on the first of the three challenges mentioned above, namely: the ability of getting research results to market. A problem that the report links to a number of contextual causes: lower availability of venture capital funds, national R&D investments below the 3% target, barriers to entrepreneurship, intensity of public-private collaboration to name a few.

The focus however will not be on exogenous variables on which researchers have little or no control but rather on endogenous aspects having to do with the design and the management of international research projects. The reminder of the post will briefly introduce the “journey from the lab to the market” (JLM) methodology that was developed by the Innovation Development team at ISMB and, subsequently, illustrate its application to a recently successfully concluded H2020 innovation action named FREME.

The JLM methodology

Acknowledging that recent years of crisis have called for innovations able to generate tangible business opportunities resulting in economic growth and job creation, the H2020 program demands remarkable focus on impact, coupled with a reduction in the distance between project results and the competitive market, especially when it comes to the Innovation Action funding scheme.

To help awarded consortia in answering such pressures, ISMB analysts developed a methodological toolkit known with the moniker of 'journey from lab to market’ (JLM), which unpacks the journey that every consortium has to undertake in order to turn research-led project results – data, algorithms and technological assets at large – into sustainable business ventures, either brand-new startups or new business lines within existing organizations.

Such a journey is framed around four macro-phases, each of them building on the previous one and attempting to test a number of hypotheses about the needs satisfied by the product/service provided, the appropriateness of the channels available for distribution, the match between the willingness to pay of prospective customers and the pricing that may be applied, the magnitude of expected returns and the fierceness of direct/indirect competition in the relevant market, etc.

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In this journey, first of all, consortia (and especially commercial partners) face the pressing need to understand whether project results match what users actually want: this ‘problem-solution fit’ is the outcome of an initial exploratory phase that hinges on value proposition design, testing and refinement.

Once commercial partners are confident that the offering creates value for their customers, they have to ascertain their capacity to appropriate a substantial slice of the value they generated: this ‘product-market fit’ is achieved through the iterative design and validation of innovative business models, either company-specific or related to a multi-actor ecosystem.  

Looking at the phase immediately after the market debut, the ‘business viability’ stage deep dives into the competitive arena with the aim of evaluating sustainability and scalability of the business model previously devised. This passes through the assessment of the market landscape and competitive threats posed by best-in-class rival offerings, while quantitative financial projections through indexes and key performance indicators are then the litmus test for staying in the black once the grant period is over.

Finally, the widespread diffusion of project outcomes can result into multi-faceted societal impact that are not visible while looking solely at P&L statements. The extent to which this capitalization can materialize is investigated through state-of-the-art impact assessment techniques that factor-in also social and environmental dimensions.

Taking a helicopter view on the 'journey from lab to market’, it goes without saying that companies often go through many iterations before they find a sufficiently large and lucrative set of customers that resonate with their product, either inside or outside the boundaries of a project backed by a funding agency. This evidence calls for a mechanism allowing to continuously incorporate market feedback and outcomes of hypotheses tested into the business development process. As a result, the 'journey from lab to market’ leverages lean startup and customer development principles to favor hypothesis-driven experimentation as part of an iterative development based on MVPs tweaks and pivots.

The FREME case

FREME (Open Framework of E-Services for Multilingual and Semantic Enrichment of Digital Content) has been a two-year Innovation Action funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. The project was aimed at building an open, innovative and commercial-ready framework of e-services for multilingual and semantic enrichment of digital content. The resulting framework works by harvesting vast amounts of structured and unstructured datasets (e.g., linked open data resources, proprietary taxonomies and ontologies) and then reusing them in its enrichment services by means of six technological pillars offered through well-defined APIs and GUIs according to a modular product architecture: (1) e-Entity; (2) e-Link; (3) e-Terminology; (4) e-Internationalization; (5) e-Translation; (6) e-Publishing. Such a portfolio of e-services – instantiated on an elastic cloud infrastructure – has been made available to three real world commercial business cases that brought FREME data innovation and technology transfer directly to the market. This occurred through three FREME-enabled ‘killer applications’ situated at different stages of the data value chain: (1) translation and localization; (2) cross-language data sharing and access; (3) personalized recommendation. The innovation ushered-in by FREME resulted ultimately in an innovative technological platform that tears down entry barriers that SMEs and startups encounter nowadays in approaching Big Data markets, and in a new breed of business models for capturing the untapped value residing in data integration.

The consortium responsible for this challenging endeavor was made up of four technological partners – DFKI acting as project coordinator (Germany), Tilde (Latvia), Leipzig University (Germany), and iMec formerly iMinds (Belgium) – three world-class commercial partners – VistaTEC (Ireland), AgroKnow (Greece), and Wripl (Ireland) – and ISMB. Within the scope of the project, ISMB was in charge of business modelling and business development activities underpinning the commercialization of FREME technological solutions. Moreover, ISMB coordinates industrial liaisons as well as dissemination and communication activities.

As an ambitious market-oriented H2020 Innovation Action, FREME has considered the stream of activities related to exploitation as fulcrum for making project results sustainable over time and purveyor of impacts for project partners and well beyond. Along these lines, the three business cases have represented the exploitation backbone as they were driven forward by a clear commercial perspective and they represented the key opportunity to harvest the fruits of FREME in a short-term perspective.

VistaTEC, headquartered in Dublin with overseas offices, is one of the world’s leading provider of localization solutions. Within the scope of FREME, it successfully harnessed the notion of enriched translation to transcend the ‘red ocean’ of bloody competition peculiar to the language market. This passed through the launch of ‘Deep Content’, an entirely FREME-enabled business line based on automatic content enrichment meant to provide customers with multilingual content that is richer, more interactive and, thus, more social. Technological innovation, mainly represented by the possibility to establish private data spaces to turn translated content into seamless and compelling content journeys, has gone hand-in-hand as with business model innovation, as the company has unveiled a new pricing mechanism that is wreaking havoc in the industry.   

AgroKnow is a thriving SME, headquartered in Athens with a global customer base, that helps worldwide organizations to extract value from data integration and data intelligence in the agri-food domain. As part of FREME endeavor, the company unveiled ‘WeSupport’, an holistic package composed by multiple modular offerings that are conceived for agricultural open data holders. While taking advantage of advanced semantic web technologies to enhance information discovery capacities, AgroKnow tweaked its business model by crafting an additional value proposition targeting private companies willing to crunch a substantial mole of agricultural data in their R&D activities.

Wripl, a Trinity College spin-out startup headquartered in Dublin, provides research-led solutions for content personalization, primarily for marketing purposes. FREME underlying technologies have been exploited by Wripl to inaugurate ‘Cognitive Content Solutions’, a full-fledge suite that supports content strategy as a whole by addressing the two core areas of content creation and content delivery. While launching new technological features in terms of predictive analytics and automated multilingual coverage for non-English content, Wripl has applied a ‘blue ocean’ thinking that looks at non-customers in lieu of customers. Instead of concentrating on finer segmentation of customers already served by the industry and on tailoring the offering to better meet traditional customer preferences, Wripl chose to prioritize underserved segments – residing in sectors that are content-intensive but, at the same time, laggards in digital transformation – taking advantage of powerful commonalities in what such buyers value.

In such a setting, the overarching exploitation strategy crafted by ISMB analysts was framed around three interdependent directions:

  • Drive customer acquisition, by setting the road to market for FREME-enabled commercial solutions through activities such as prospect profiling, market assessment, competitive benchmark, price setting, financial projections, risk exposure analysis, etc.
  • Monitor customer acquisition, thus applying innovation accounting metrics for tracking in a granular manner the process of onboarding along the customer acquisition funnel.
  • Accelerate customer acquisition, by means of dissemination actions (e.g., top-tier sectoral events in the realms of big data and language technologies, trade fairs, product roadshows, F2F private meetings, webinars) targeting specific customers segments.

To orchestrate such streams of activities, ISMB team scheduled a number of milestones to be attained on a monthly basis in terms of market validation results. To keep the process under control, ISMB analysts release a Web-based environment – known in the project jargon with the moniker of ‘tableu du bord’ – which allowed commercial partners to plan and measure market uptake. Business case partners, in fact, had been facing a pressing need to define, measure, and communicate progress with internal (e.g., company executives) and external stakeholders (e.g., European Commission as funding agency, external private investors, business accelerators) well before the materialization of first visible results (e.g., contracts, invoices, impact on P&L statement). To use a metaphor, first visible results mentioned above could be seen as the tip of an iceberg that appears clearly visible above the surface. However, as an iceberg floats in the water, the huge mass of it remains below the surface. By analogy, the need of BC partners was to capture the tremendous amount of results, although preliminary and not necessarily conducive to sales, that happen prior to actual sales all along the customer acquisition funnel. To keep these aspects in the radar screen, ISMB analysts resorted to the well-known AARRR pirate metrics, which have been combined into a comprehensive framework providing for each business case the following metrics:

  • [Acquisition] Prospects engaged in bilateral vis-à-vis/virtual meetings and/or business pitches.
  • [Activation] Prospects involved in hands-on testing of ‘killer application’ MVPs and subsequent feedback questionnaire and/or interview.
  • [Retention] Prospects entering pilot experimentations and related negotiations after having satisfactorily completed the MVP testing.
  • [Referral] Prospects acting as brand advocates.
  • [Revenue] Prospects turned into paying customers via deals signed.

When it comes to results achieved at the completion of the grant period, the innovation accounting metrics shed light on figures that appear impressive for R&D funded projects. Not only the Consortium has met the target of 200+ prospects involved in market validation – set by partners as internal goal – but also generated a powerful sales pipeline on which commercial partners are building for conversion purposes:

  • 206 prospects engaged through commercial dissemination activities.
  • 168 prospects involved in MVP-based market validation.
  • 23 prospects entering the early adopter program as follow-up of MVP testing.
  • 8 prospects generating prospective contracts prior to the project completion, which amount to more than €150,000 per year of revenue.

In addition, FREME ‘killer applications’ have become the flagship offerings in companies’ marketing campaigns while attracting into early adopter programs high-caliber prospects including household name such as FAO, Expedia, and Salesforce.

Due to confidentiality reasons, further results – which have been reported in full-fledged business plans elaborated by ISMB analysts – cannot be disclosed in this blogpost. That said, just to provide the reader with a flavor of the high-potential solutions ushered-in by FREME project, prospective FREME-enabled revenues, if materialized in a 5-year time horizon, would allow business partners to multiply (on average) by 15 the EC grant received, thus corroborating the viability of the investment undertaken by the European Commission as funding agency.

Such results – which has been accompanied by IPR arrangements defined by ISMB team and supporting sustainability measures (e.g., the hosting of FREME technical installation at the ADAPT center in Dublin) – have witnessed the FREME capacity to stand out in triangulating business ambition, scientific excellence, and search for impact on society at large.

All this is not only a perception of ISMB team, but it reflects the outcomes of the final project review, whose verdict clearly states that the “project has delivered excellent results with significant immediate impact for its participant’s business cases”.

The role of ISMB team was recognized by the Commission as crucial for this outstanding success. The EC acknowledged that “the business modelling approach provided significant guidance to the projection and provided the necessary focus on business results and measurable market impact” and emphasized the centrality of ISMB’s innovation advisory role in the project landscape: “a business partner like ISMB in the role of a project consulting organization is valuable for offering tailored business perspectives together with the provision of the needed tools and methodologies to pragmatically addressing the construction of a business plan. […] This type of support should be considered for similar future projects.”

Takeaways and lessons learnt

Drawing on the extensive fieldwork experimentation with JLM - within the scope of FREME as well as in a wealth of other H2020 and EIT projects - ISMB analysts have realized that an approach in this vein activates a new innovation kernel that challenges some of the most ingrained habits in the circle of organizations familiar with EU-funded projects. In fact, the JLM approach implies substantial changes with respect to the sectoral status quo, which are summarized as follows.

  • In terms of mindset, exploitation is no longer an obligation to be dealt with in the second half of the project lifecycle, but is becomes the heart, the engine and the metronome of the project. This pronounced penchant for ‘beginning with the end in mind’ – since the dawn of proposal drafting – results in a continued market-oriented approach that, in turn, bring the exploitation thinking to the forefront.
  • When it comes to timing, this approach allows to accelerate technological development when needed and to keep pace with fast-evolving market dynamics: this marks a discontinuity with respect to rigid implementation-driven Gantt charts that usually determine the schedule of project activities on a contractual basis.
  • In regard to project monitoring and control, in the current state of play the progress of EU-funded projects is ultimately dependent on project management metrics related to the adherence with what is stipulated in the binding contract with the funding agency. Conversely, placing prospect engagement at the core of project development abruptly alters the performance priorities: this makes explicit the need to shift to metrics that capture specific prospect behavior – such as for instance AARRR innovation accounting metrics – with the purpose of keeping track of the progress along the customer acquisition funnel and facilitating possible growth hacking tactics.
  • Validated learning adopted as modus operandi drastically changes consortia’s attitude towards failure. In fact, failure becomes an expected norm rather than an exception or an incident, hence turning into an unparalleled chance to continually distill lessons learnt.

A noticeable strength of JLM that came to light in the FREME experience has to do with not requiring a quantum leap in terms of ‘innovator toolkit’: in fact, consortia – especially partners at the helm of exploitation-related activities – can rely on the portfolio of tools that they are already accustomed with, such as Value Proposition Canvas, Business Model Canvas, tools for value ecosystem design (e.g., Board of Innovation, e3-value), competitive analysis tools taught in business schools (e.g., Porter’s Five Forces analysis, VRIN, SWOT) and financial metrics for investment analysis (e.g., NPV, IRR, PBP, ROI).

This brings to the fore the essence of the 'journey from lab to market’ mindset: it does not bring tectonic changes to the single tools adopted by consortia but rather – resorting to a culinary analogy – it intends to enhance the recipe without necessarily varying the ingredients. All this with a clear goal, that is turbocharging consortia’s ability of getting research results to market.

In practical terms, this means making the leap from procedure-based management of EU-funded project to outcome-driven (as market reactions act as guiding light in view of the customer development approach) and evidence-based thinking (as the lean startup mindset is grounded on running experiments that allow to systematically test potentially each element of a business line).

With FREME a similar approach has proved to be able to turn a EU-funded project into a powerful springboard allowing companies - spanning the gamut from startups to large enterprises - to embark on a path of market expansion, brand recognition and financial growth.

References:

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/research/innovation-union/index_en.cfm?pg=why

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/research/horizon2020/pdf/press/fact_sheet_on_horizon2020_budget.pdf

[3] https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/en/file/9083/download?token=LCOIWLRJ


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MARS42 with Molecular Foundry and Berkeley Labs

When I was a Master of Science student in Physics, in Italy, and the moment to choose a thesis was approaching, I remember the thrill that was spreading among people in my class. I suppose that all students feel their thesis as a bet, as the moment to test and show to the community the abilities acquired in the years and eventually do their step forward among peers. It is a competition and a pitch at the same time: for a full semester you are on the stage, looking for the most effective way to successfully solve a problem and thus step into word-class scientific research. This is why everybody becomes thrilled to get positions in the best labs all around the world and one of those labs is Berkeley Laboratory.

I remember the atmosphere created by that sentence: “I am going to the Berkeley Labs...”

Now that I am a PhD candidate and a scientist, facing everyday in my research the problems that Science lets arise, I understand the reason behind that atmosphere. In order to understand the mysteries laying under Science’s hat, you need the best facilities possible, you need to be able to manipulate science and look at it from different perspectives. Richard Feynman, who was teaching in the same marvelous and visionare State, said:

“What I cannot create, I do not understand”

Well, at the Berkeley Labs you can create it, what you are investigating, and, even better, at the Molecular Foundry nearly everybody can do it!

The Foundry’s mission is to provide communities of users worldwide with access to expert staff and leading‐edge instrumentation to enable the understanding and control of matter at the nanoscale in a multidisciplinary, collaborative environment. Users come from academic, industrial and national laboratories, both domestic and international, at no cost for non‐proprietary research. They gain access to the Foundry on the basis of a competitive external peer‐reviewed proposal process.

The Foundry is providing enabling technologies and best-quality expertise to external users, coming from research environments as well as companies and startups. It is promoting the cultural exchange and the cross-fertilization between worlds that usually need to spend huge effort in order to find contact points between each-other. Foundry’s mission is above all a hymn to a new state of mind, it is a vision of a new concept of innovation in which scientific research and enterprises communicate and work synergistically to boost the change.

This is why we at MARS42 Summer School are glad to announce our collaboration with Molecular Foundry and Berkeley Labs!


We want to give birth together to a new way of doing scientific innovation and to break free the potential energy laying within our Universities in order to solve our Society’s problems. We are shaping brand new Scientific Entrepreneurs, able to understand the jobs to be done in the near future and we are doing it with a common and clear vision.

The focus of the MARS42 Summer School, to help students and postdocs explore the world of science-based industry and innovation, resonates with the culture and mission of the Molecular Foundry. Over ten percent of Molecular Foundry users come from industry, most of them from startup companies, and we see directly the value of supporting and encouraging crossover between the worlds of science and industry.

We at the Molecular Foundry are enthusiastic about this summer school and wish you every success.

Sincerely,

Dr. Alison Hatt, Director, Molecular Foundry User Program

 

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MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Massimo Debenedetti.

New member of the faculty, new blog post!

Today we are glad to introduce Massimo Debenedetti, Corporate Vice President for Research & Innovation at Fincantieri, where his main accountabilities are: to define the R&D corporate strategy, plan and budget, to manage and execute the R&D corporate plan, to drive the Innovation Process, to manage Intellectual Property.

He currently serves also as a Director in the boards of CETENA, Fincantieri’s Corporate Research Centre, and Trieste International Foundation for Scientific Progress and Freedom. He is also a member of the Scientific Committee of Area Science Park in Trieste.

In addition to his experience in the Corporate World, in October 2016 Massimo joint the Adjunct Faculty of Luiss Business School in Rome as adjunct professor of Innovation Management, where he is responsible for designing and teaching a brand new course of International Innovation & Entrepreneurship given in the Master in International Management.

He gives lectures on innovation strategy and management on a regular basis and - previously - he held positions as adjunct professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Turin University and Polytechnic.

Based on his experience, Massimo - as a faculty member - will help us understanding what it means to manage R&D in industry and the entire Innovation Process, and how the role of the R&D Manager inside companies is changing.

I am glad to take part of this Summer School as a faculty member because I do believe that MARS42 can really close the gap between Academia and Industry and - based on my professional experience - I am more than happy to help ambitious researchers understanding how to apply their scientific skills outside the Academia in order to have an impact on Innovative Corporations.
— Massimo Debenedetti

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How to turn Scientists into Entrepreneurs using Lean Startup Techniques

How would you feel if after years spent designing a sophisticated solution, you get a "You’re not in the lab anymore. This is Silicon Valley. Go out and interview 10 companies in this space before tomorrow and tell us if they really have any interest in buying this software."?

This different way of thinking is called "Lean Startup Methodology" and can help anyone launch a new product or venture, whether it is someone tinkering in a garage somewhere, a group of executives at a major corporation, or a scientist with a fundamentally new discovery.

But, most of all, this approach can literally change the way you do science, with respect to the types of experiments you perform, how you write grant proposals, and how you prepare papers for publication.

Author of the article: Greg Satell, Harvard Business Review
Commented by: Alessandro Coltro - Lean Startup Practitioner


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MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Daniel Paz.

As we promised, here we are with a new blog post introducing the  faculty members of MARS42.

Today is the turn of Daniel Paz, the founder and CEO of Mercurio Ventures, a Berlin based venture building platform for hi-tech startups. The firm identifies hi potential ventures and helps them grow into the next level to reach commercial and financial success. Mercurio Ventures provides teams with the tools they need to grow and succeed. These include market and business planning, logistics, financials and strategy. The portfolio of companies Mercurio Ventures works with is diverse with teams from Silicon Valley, Israel, Iceland, India, France, Germany and more.

Before founding Mercurio Ventures, Daniel managed the supply chain of GE Healthcare for the Israeli biotech sector via its local distributor, Danyel Biotech Ltd. In this position he oversaw the distribution and performance of multiple world leading bio tech manufacturers serving Israel’s advanced biotech ecosystem, which included among others three Nobel Prize winners and pharma giant TEVA.

Daniel holds an MBA from INSEAD Business School in Fontainebleau and a B.Sc. in Life Sciences from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Daniel, as faculty member, will help us understanding how to negotiate the concept of IP, its dynamics in different environments and how to negotiate IP licensing between PhDs, investors and universities. 

I am really happy to help young researchers dealing with IP and licensing, understanding their dynamics in different environments and the best negotiation strategies to gain value and profit from them. MARS42 has the ambitious goal to close the gap between academia and the industry, and that’s the reason why I am glad to be part of this exciting project as faculty member.
— Daniel Paz

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I moved to USA with a PhD: on Challenge, Resilience and Giving Back.

When I was offered a PhD studentship at one of the largest CNRS labs in France, I immediately accepted. It was evident to me that higher education meant a further reaching career. I even checked on multiple salary databases. They all agreed with that impression, with higher retributions and job levels. Those were salary statistics for jobs in companies of my industry, Electronics and Communications Engineering.

One year or two into my training, I discovered that not any kind of PhD in my industry would be needed for the kind of career I desired, but rather those involving Applied Research, readily translatable to the industry’s needs. A research topic that doesn’t need 15 or 20 years to become mainstream.

So, why did I found myself knee-deep into a Fundamental Research topic like Graphene microwave properties, again? Well, an error coming from my naïveté, for sure. I didn’t connect the dots between what I wanted to achieve and the path I was following.

Learn from your errors. Such a simple lesson, applicable to really anybody. Yet it implies you first should fail at something, then honestly analyze why did you take that course of action, and finally correct your path.

Since then, I corrected my life and career path, and I failed at new and different things. That’s good, you don’t wanna do the same errors twice. If you fail enough times, you’ll develop a highly revered quality called resilience. You’re gonna need a good amount of it if you want to drastically change your life, or society, or the city where you grew up, or a bit of them all.

What’s all this about

Resilience is one of the main topics of this post. Another one is the mindset of giving back, plus on the importance of challenging yourself and truly stepping out your comfort zone.

If you are a highly specialized professional, or a PhD, or a researcher, or a startup founder, you’ll always have larger autonomy compared to other workers, and you’ll always be on the first line. You’ll always be on the brink of success and failure, and you’ll have to adapt quickly. Your professional success will be very much dependent on those personal traits.

Putting the concepts of resilience, challenging yourself and giving back into practice will be one of the strongest distinctive actions that will set yourself apart in this increasingly competitive world.

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My transition from academia to industry, and from Europe to U.S.A.

I managed to correct my professional path from purely academic to one palatable to the industry. I did this by redirecting the focus of my last PhD studentship year on Metrology and microwave measurements. A series of doors opened at the same time, including an opportunity for my wife to spend one year as post-doc in Los Angeles.

I wanted to make the best use possible of my freshly got PhD diploma and of that American opportunity. That window was constrained to a one-year period by my wife’s J-1 exchange researcher visa, and her sponsors did not have funds to further her grant. With that, our visas too would stop after one year.

So, as soon as the visa offices allowed, we moved from Italy to California. No more than two months later, I was already employed as Sr. Design Engineer in a small startup and, even better, my boss insisted for me getting the Green Card, the U.S. permanent residence. At the same time, the American mindset of dynamicity, of personal success and of getting things done fast was really appealing for my wife and me, and we wanted to stay in the U.S. Those were really exciting times.

Challenging myself: the Green Card petition

Unfortunately, my Green Card petition became much more complicated than what the attorney initially forecasted. He convinced me that my case was strong enough for a highly challenging Green Card petition called National Interest Waiver (NIW), very advantageous for my situation.

For this NIW petition to succeed, I had to show the importance to the U.S. National Interest of what I did with my work (Radar Electronics). In particular, I had to show the results of my research as PhD student and, through those, demonstrate how I, as professional research, was significantly above the level of other researcher like me. The way to prove it (at that time) was through number of publications and citations I gathered with my works. And they weren’t enough to ensure a clean and smooth approval of my case.

I also needed other experts of my field and professors, especially whom I never met or talked to before (external to my circle of collaborators), to validate the worth of my work through official support letters.

One of the most difficult things for me in this procedure was really putting myself forward, stating my worth way beyond what even I, myself, thought I was worth. It was especially difficult with the professors, because I felt they would look at the results I achieved and judge them too meagre compared to the high value I was asking them to state in the letters. This made me extremely reluctant in asking their support.

But I forced myself and I did it. It was a big challenge for me.

It turned out that many of those professors and experts were really happy to offer their support. And one of them even went beyond and offered me a job in his lab. I couldn’t expect this kind of approval.

The lesson here is not about my special achievements and my value, there’s no use of that for anybody other than me. What I want to give to you is a practical example of what many people already say: the biggest limit we experience is within ourselves. And of how I got past that limit in many occasions: holding my breath and diving deep, there’s no way around it.

In my case, I was limiting myself from contacting the leading experts in my field, asking for their statement that I was world-leading expert too. I was very seriously considering of abandoning the path I chose, my personal American Dream, because I didn’t want to expose myself that way. I said out loud, many times, “I can’t do it”. I had to really force myself to click “Send” on the emails asking for their consideration and help.

That challenge paid off greatly.

Resilience

“1: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Oxford Dictionary.

My PhD training was absolutely a training of resilience too, being left most of the time on my own, trying to innovate on a topic mostly foreign to my supervisors. I imagine that this kind of difficulties are very common among PhD students, in any country.

The exercise of pursuing a career goal during the PhD training is also very formative, as there are many difficulties on the research path that tend to steer us away from our initial aim. For example, I had to change my PhD subject at least TWICE and reinvent it (and reinvent my career with it).

The second time was the most suffered one. At the very beginning of my second year I planned an experiment, and the samples I needed were supposed to be fabricated by my lab’s clean room. My supervisor was the one to build them, and he assured me it would have taken “just a couple of months”. It actually took more than two years. I got the very first sample of my first experiment when my PhD studentship was already over.

Again, this kind of things are way more common than what we want to believe, especially in fundamental research.

What helps in those situations, and that is really needed from a PhD, or a startup entrepreneur, or anybody involved in innovating and confronting with making radically new things, is the ability to pursue our ultimate goal even when the very basis of our initial plan fails miserably. That is resilience.

I have other examples of that trait to offer, but I don’t want to make this post about me.

Let’s focus on resilience again.

“The flexible are preserved unbroken.” Lao Tsu. The Tao Te Ching.

Anyone who launches in a new venture, being it building a product around a new idea, or furthering that idea by introducing the product into the market and building a company out of it, is always facing some degree of failure. It’s spoken as a necessary evil that prepares for and traces the path to success.

One of the most popular mantra in Silicon Valley is “Fail Fast, Fail Often”. However, I disagree with it. It’s not failure that should be sought for. Indeed, everybody in the Bay avoid failure as bubonic plague (even though people don’t generally avoid other people who have failed in the past; failure seem to be accepted in other people).

So failure is not exactly something people currently seek, or should seek at any time. It’s what happens next that failure that’s instead distinctive as a trait of a successful person: the ability of bouncing back. The ability of indeed learning from our personal errors, with honesty, and implementing a winning strategy.

Resilience is what makes a successful Entrepreneur and a successful PhD transitioning into industry.

Resilience is what made me go through two years of psychological hell waiting for graphene samples for my experiment, and finally reinventing myself on a different topic, very sought for by the industry.

Resilience is what made me stick through another two years of legal hell for my US immigration problems, sticking to my case, until I WON my own battle, alone, against any forecast of all the attorneys I contacted and that turned me away as if I had the bubonic plague.

Transferable skills

Resilience is an exceptional transferable skill that many PhD and Startuppers can learn in their personal life, then adapt and implement in their profession.

No employer or VC investor will ever ask you to show your mastery with that particular MATLAB function or that obscure physical measurement. They will instead look for a handful of transferable skills that you learned in your past experiences and that will prove vital in the future. Resilience is one of them.

The mindset of Giving Back

All of us know that helping others, in any form, is important for the survival of community and society as a whole. But very few people describe it as a vital part of the Networking skill set. Even fewer people talk of it as a necessary element of the Leadership skill set.

The latter is source for one of the strangest contradictions. Everybody imagine that a leader is one that “shows the way to others”. But how does he or she show it to other people? By pointing at it with a long stick? Or with a laser pointer on a slide?

Lead by example. Teach what you know to the people who are in the same position as you were in the past. Feed your network at every level, including your roots, such as your native country, your hometown or graduates from your Alma Mater. Because they will likely support you in the future.

Giving back is more profound than the traditional notion of charity. Both of them represent helping others and both are equally important. However, giving back inserts into the gradual progression of one’s life. It threads into the very fabric of one’s professional community. What we got from the community, we give back to members of that community.

Giving back is something I learned in California. It is embedded into the U.S. culture. As much as the U.S. culture is controversially founded upon money and mythology of success, so it is founded upon giving back substantial portions of your time and wealth to your own community.

I decided to implement that giving back mindset. I took everything I had learned the hard way, that is how to win the Green Card petition using academic and professional results, and I’m sharing it. I’m building two websites, both dedicated to PhD’s and Entrepreneurs. And I especially want to share all the things that I wish I knew while I was building the case for my own Green Card.

NIWeasy.com is dedicated to a global audience in English and provides resources to highly skilled professionals, PhD’s and startup entrepreneur to petition for the U.S. Green Card with success.

OttenereLaGreenCard.com is in Italian, my native language, and broadens the scope of the first website. It also integrates career-building, soft-skill-building and American mindset as tools for a successful and empowered life, be it in Italy, in U.S.A. or anywhere people can express their full potential.

OttenereLaGreenCard.com in particular is my way of giving back value to my native country, and hopefully it will help Italians be more competitive in an ever-changing world.

Conclusions

There are many actionable tips in this article.

First, getting out of your comfort zone really means do things that make you uncomfortable. Do things that you never ever thought of doing, and that don’t put you in any danger other than getting yourself closer to success. (Yes, success is sometimes perceived as dangerous, like any other radical change in our life).

Embrace challenges that are deeply, truly important for you, and that you must win at nearly all cost.

Embrace resilience. “Losers are those who stay down when they fail. Successful ones are those who get up.” Listen to some talks of Brené Brown, PhD, for that.

Give back to people who are in the same situation as you were in the past, and build your network not by merely adding people to your LinkedIn, but by helping them out, even in little things once in awhile. Add value to them.

I hope this helped you as much as it would have helped me during my PhD :)

Giancarlo

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MARS42’s Faculty: introducing Ruggero Frezza.

The day we came up with the idea of creating MARS42 we set our goals very high, and that’s why we have been working very hard during the last months to involve the best professors and mentors for this exciting project.

In this blog post - the first one of a series where we will present all the MARS42 Faculty members - we are glad to introduce you Ruggero Frezza.

Ruggero Frezza graduated in Electrical Engineering in the University of Padova and became Master of Science and Ph.D. at the University of California, Davis.

During his career he was visiting scientist and researcher in several Universities: the International Institute for Applied System Analysis in Laxenburg (Austria), the Royal Institute of Technology in Stoccolma, the University of Groningen in Netherlands and the University of California in Berkeley.

In Italy he became Professor at the Department of Information Engineering in the University of Padova. In that period he founded with his students and collaborators six companies that operated in high tech industries, from biomedical to wood industry and CAE instruments for the automotive industry.

In 2006 he founded M31 in order to support young people to establish innovative technology projects and in 2008 Ruggero Frezza chose to abandon teaching to focus on M31. Today he is M31 Italia President and Ceo.

So far, the Padova based venture incubator has invested € 7 million since its foundation, found co-investors for more than € 14 million and the aggregate revenues of M31’s portfolio companies surpass 20M €.

Moreover, ventures supported by M31 own more than 20 patent applications.

In February 2017, M31 sold its participation in CenterVue to Zignano holding Spa. CenterVue is a hi-tech company that produces “robot diagnostici per l’oftalmologia” and that M31 has been supporting since the beginning.

Ruggero, as a faculty member, will help us understanding which is the right moment to leave the laboratory to dedicate our effort building new successful venture in scientific and technological fields.

I believe that MARS42 represents a very unique opportunity for PhDs who are striving to find a way to take their research on the market. This Summer Entrepreneurship School will help them acquiring the right methodology to develop a project in the field of hard sciences, transforming it into a new disruptive business.
— Ruggero Frezza
 

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Entrepreneurship as a State of Mind: follow the steps which brought Sara Diani to merge Research and Entrepreneurship.

I was a clinical doctor, I worked in Italy and Germany in the rehabilitation field, but I had a major interest, a fire inside, for research. In particular for the theoretical research in medicine.

In the hospital, I saw so many cases of acute and chronic incurable diseases. I was observing the patients and our clinical practice and I was unsatisfied. I touched with my hands the actual limits of medicine. I mean, medicine in the latest years improved a lot, especially in the surgical and technological field, but there are a lot of difficulties in finding new drugs, and especially new approaches to diseases.

Parallel to my clinical activity I made a lot of courses in the lasts eight years and, together with my daily work, I understood the potential of our organism, the great magic, marvel of life. I began studying the logic of our organism, the logic of life. I'm passionate in philosophy and physics, and I started reading them intensively, and binding them to medicine.

My key-approach is the following: in order to improve consistently the entire clinical practice, we deeply need to change our approach to health and diseases. The only way to do this is to bind and use different disciplines, such as philosophy, physics, mathematics and biology, to build an inclusive, coherent and complete theoretical approach. If we reach this comprehension, this clarity and logic, we can apply and derive the general model to the particular cases in order to treat them.

This means that in order to face the problems in which medicine is stuck, we need to develop a new paradigm. My specialty is to bind different disciplines, to discover the common points between them, and use them to build theoretical models that explain reality. Reality first, abstraction second.

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With further studies, I started putting all together, like a puzzle, and I built my vision. Still, I was stuck, always working in the hospital. Then something changed: I had a severe disease, and I needed to stop to heal myself. I combined my theoretical approach to the therapies in order to cure myself and it worked. Additionally, I thought: "I don't know why this happened to me, but I pretend it was because I need to learn something". Afterwards, I understood that learning wasn't enough, I needed to evolve.

I saw the big opportunity in the big difficulty. Month after month, I realized that my route was in the research field. This was the first important step.

So I decided to do research as an independent researcher, for two reasons:

  • In the past, professors of different universities told me my projects were awesome, but too difficult to realize. So I couldn't accede to a PhD.
  • I wanted freedom, time to think different, to develop my ideas in the best way, and I wanted to act like an entrepreneur.

The second step was to find a financial plan to overcome at least the first year, and I found a safe way.

The whole 2016 was necessary to prepare myself from the scientific and business point of view. I started writing a book, I thought and wrote the first important physical model, that was read and examined by an important Professor, who approved the content. I continued studying and amplifying my knowledge. My approach is innovative, but scientifically rigorous. I prove all my ideas, test them through the facts, and ask for expertise to improve them and make them more precise.

My research projects are actually four:

  • The first, very important, is about complex systems and philosophy of medicine. We are a complex system and we need to adapt our medical approach to this. Philosophy of medicine is also significant to understand the nature of health and diseases. Now I'm focusing myself especially on this one, because it's the most urgent and inclusive.
  • Modern physics applied to medicine. I found a way to use the quantum field theory, combined with physics of information, to model our way to reach and answer to different kind of information. This can be decisive in developing new kind of drugs or stimuli to treat diseases or to maintain a healthy state.
  • Immune system and chronic diseases: network medicine is a new discipline. To deeply understand chronic diseases is necessary to observe immunological networks and diseases network. This will allow also new approaches in the treatment of chronic diseases.
  • Philosophy of consciousness. This is the "new entry" of 2016. It is impossible to model our organism and ignoring our brain, our emotions and our mind. So I started to understand how the body and the brain communicate, how consciousness emerges, how the rules of complex systems influence it. I created my model of consciousness and asked myself whether free will and willpower exist and how we can use them to improve the patient's pro-activity in curing diseases. There's also the actual challenge of AI, that is multidisciplinary by itself.

Actually, I'm writing the first papers, and this is an important part of my daily routine. The second part is business.

The real challenge is to create a business with theoretical research. In fact, normally is possible to create a business with an income when there's a product, a patent, or a concrete system/algorithm. In my case, this is not possible, because products, or patents, will come after years and years of research. Normally theoretical research is funded, and it is not financially autonomous. My challenge, my big bet is to make my research financially independent and productive.

So my big question was: how can I run an entrepreneurial activity without nothing to sell but ideas? I understood it was necessary to discover a market addressed by my research.

But, how? I found an answer, this is actually a work in progress. I need to communicate what I'm doing. Not to inform, to communicate. I need to assemble a community of people who can agree with something I propose and who shares ideas. I suggest and publish contents, divulge the core basic ideas on my website, my Facebook page and other social networks. I'm now creating a "tribe", a network of people who can collaborate and share some important thoughts. Then I will sell my book, and by the time I'll develop other valuable content to share and/or to sell. This means to develop web strategies, learn how to communicate with external people, learn everything possible about the online world.

To compound the research and this business part is challenging but fascinating. I need to be flexible, open, efficient and quick. As I wrote it's a work in progress, but now I understand I couldn't do anything different. I'm realizing myself, giving myself the possibility to bring my personal "plus" to the world.

To be entrepreneur of myself is a mindset, an attitude. It means to be ready to work on myself in order to improve my working activity. It means to stop dividing my person from my job, to stop being a day laborer. It implies the willingness to evolve as a human being through my job, and at the same time, the willingness to evolve in my job through the development of my person.

I hope to improve continuously on this route, I hope to bring the best part of me to the world.

 

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Leaving Academia: How To Get A Job In Industry After Your PhD

This is the story of a PhD, working on Chemistry, who decided to get a Job in Industry.

Being a real story, it has the flavor of all personal experiences, thoughts and doubts, encountered during the process. That's probably the reason for the massive use of slang in describing the adventure (get prepared for it)...

“Getting a job in industry after your PhD is an honorable alternative to an academic career. Despite its appeal, many PhD students seem terrified to take the jump.”

With this article he wants to help other PhDs that are approaching a similar path. It is a hands-on tutorial full of tips, suggestions, potential plans, readings and references to other useful articles that help you in a smoother and easier transition to the Industry world.

“You should see an academic position (postdoc, associate professor) just as a regular job. Don’t get obsessed by following all the steps in the academic ladder.”

Author of the article: Julio Peironcely - PhD, founder of Next Scientist
Commented by: Daniele Conti – PhD candidate in Physics

 

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Why PhDs are potential entrepreneurs?

We are used to think that Entrepreneurship and Academia are two completely different worlds. Well, I’m not so sure, and this article will show you why.

The purpose of a PhD is not just about producing an original piece of excellent research. Neither is obtaining a degree certificate. Instead it’s about driving changes in society through the conclusions of a few years of hard research. And during these years - other than writing scientific papers - PhDs have to be able to blog (write abstract), pitch (seminars and defenses) and teach about their research (and more) to any kind of audience (conferences and practical lessons).

If you compare the life of an entrepreneur with yours as a PhD, you found out more similarities than you expected:

An entrepreneur has to be able to convince consumers (your students and practitioners), investors (the research center founding you) and key personalities (academicians, colleagues, practitioners) that you’re solving a relevant problem (research question) and that your solution (thesis) has sounded value proposition (implications) and business model (applications).

So what differentiates entrepreneurs from PhD candidates? Well, I’ll say it’s vision. 

 

Author of the article: Maria Angel Ferrero - Teaching assistant at University of Montpellier
Commented by: Alessandro Coltro - Lean Startup Practitioner

 

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Physicists to Silicon Valley.

I am a PhD candidate in Physics. I am working on machine learning, transforming neural networks into hardware technology.

Sometimes, talking with some colleagues of mine, other physicists, it emerges a common concern about the lack of positions in academia and being “unsuitable” for the “external” world...

Well, let me say it is impressive to read this article and discover how many people out there, working in outstanding companies, are indeed physicist! They come from Astrophysics, Nuclear physics... They are everywhere.

“We didn’t go into the physics kindergarten and steal a basket of children,” says Stripe president and co-founder John Collison. “It just happened.” And it’s happening across Silicon Valley.

“In the early days of Google, one of the key people building the massively distributed systems in the company’s engine room was Yonatan Zunger, who has a PhD in string theory from Stanford.”
 


Author of the article: Cade Metz
Commented by: Daniele Conti

 

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