Bioentrepreneurship Is a Distinct Academic Domain

NOVEMBER 02, 2016
Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

There are too many U.S. basic-science graduate and post-doctoral students and not enough jobs in academia to go around. At least, that is the conclusion you draw if you follow science policy wonks and the blogosphere. By one account, the likelihood of a bioscience PhD getting a tenure track job with in 5 years of graduation is less than 10%.
The result has been pushback from students and some forward-thinking members of the biomedical educational establishment who have been clamoring for some new thinking to address this dysfunctional imbalance between supply and demand. 
One response has been the creation of a new academic discipline: Bioentrepreneurship. Four years ago, I had the pleasure of recently attending the first International Bioentrepreneurship Education Conference at the Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education. Sponsored by Johns Hopkins, the University of Colorado program in ‘bioinnovation’ and entrepreneurship, the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and several regional economic development agencies, this inaugural meeting was held to assemble the leaders of international Bioentrepreneurship programs, share best practices and set an agenda for the future.
Based on the results, the future indeed looks bright for the development of these programs designed for scientists, engineers, business students, medical professionals and service providers interested in learning about how to get an idea to market and how to work with industry or create a startup. There have been annual meetings since then to exchange best practices.
However, there are significant barriers to the creation, growth and development of these programs:
·       They engage participants in endeavors that get short shrift on campuses: teaching and innovation. Generating clinical and grant revenue takes priority. Few campuses reward faculty or students for developing or commercializing an idea or paying them extra to teach the courses.

·       Money is tight and little is available to support these programs. They run on a shoestring and are expected to be self-funded, and they require uncompensated time from faculty being paid by other disciplines.

·       Biomedical entrepreneurship rests on a four-legged stool that includes education, networks, experience and money. The last three are difficult to create, scale and sustain.

·       Bioentrepreneurship educators have no home. Bioentrepreneurship is not yet a recognized academic domain; there are limited places to publish peer-reviewed research and manuscripts (the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology is an exception); and promotion and tenure committees attribute little or no value to the enterprise.

·       By its very nature, ‘bioentrepreneurship’ education is an interdisciplinary, multi campus effort with all of the bureaucratic and systems issues that engenders. There is frequently a lack of alignment of academic entities driving growth, and short-term money issues trump long-term investments in entrepreneurship education innovation.
Despite these obstacles, passionate international educational entrepreneurs are creating new programs at the community college, undergraduate and graduate level granting course credit, certificates and specialized degrees like those we have created at the University of Colorado. The challenges are many, the programs need to validate their value to multiple stakeholders and leaders need to create sustainable revenue models in collaboration with their local bioscience ecosystems. Success, however, will create more jobs, a higher standard of living, more innovation getting to patients faster, and a way for graduates to leverage their enormous talents not just at the bench or beside but in the boardroom as well.

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