No notes, no props, no polished PowerPoint presentation.

Just two minutes — 120 seconds — of passion and persuasion.

That’s the idea behind IdeaBounce, a campus-wide initiative founded in 2003 to support student, faculty and community interest in commercial, social, global, technological, legal, artistic and intellectual entrepreneurship.

IdeaBounce is the brainchild of Washington University’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. This past October, for the first time, an IdeaBounce was held at the School of Medicine.

“The time went so fast, and you’re so nervous,” says Dana M. Watt, a graduate student in anatomy and neurobiology in the Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. “But I think the judges liked my idea, and maybe someone will help me take it to the next level.”

They did. Watt and four others among the 13 people who made pitches were named the event’s five winners. As a reward, the winners each received a check for $50 and the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with the judges at a dinner after the event.

Credit for bringing the IdeaBounce competition to the School of Medicine goes to members of the BioEntrepreneurship Core (BEC), a group of the school’s graduate and medical students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty who share an interest in entrepreneurship.

“The university is working hard at emphasizing entrepreneurship,” says Hugh Bender, a fourth-year doctoral student in developmental, regenerative and stem cell biology and president of the BEC. “On the medical school campus, the National Institutes of Health invests millions of dollars in research. But what’s the output of that?

“In academia, it’s typically peer-reviewed, published papers,” he says. “A lot of that research could also be commercialized; ideas are getting lost because we don’t think in terms of intellectual and translational property. We want to focus on the fact that researchers are creating value, which should be recognized beyond publications alone.”

Started in 2004, the BEC now boasts a mailing list of more than 300. The group fosters conversations and idea-sharing through a series of events throughout the year, including panel presentations by community entrepreneurs and Washington University faculty and staff.

The BEC also holds casual morning coffee lectures and get-togethers, all with the goal of creating interest in entrepreneurship.

“The BEC represents an opportunity to network and meet different people in industry,” says Rachael A. Hansel, a postdoctoral researcher in radiation oncology. “As a student or postdoc, you are highly focused on science and that millimeter slice of the world. I’m looking for jobs, so here you can meet creative people, bounce ideas and open up your view of the world and your career possibilities.”

Students met at a recent coffee lecture to talk with Kenneth A. Harrington, managing director of the university’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Students met at a recent coffee lecture to talk with Kenneth A. Harrington, managing director of the university’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
Photo Credit: Ray Marklin

Student leaders of the School of Medicine’s BioEntrepreneurship Core, clockwise from lower left: Dana M. Watt, secretary; Hugh Bender, president; Matthew C. Hibberd, vice president; Sriram Devanathan, vice president; Aswin J. Mathews, treasurer; and Elizabeth A. Germino, marketing director.
Photo Credit: Robert Boston

The BEC is a “cohesive nucleus of energy” that contributes to the culture of entrepreneurship now blossoming at the medical school, says Kenneth A. Harrington, managing director of the university’s Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

“You don’t know if an idea is viable until you act entrepreneurially,” says Harrington. “The reason IdeaBounce is so important is that it helps people with ideas meet other people who can help move their ideas forward. In that process, we develop the idea-makers into entrepreneurs. Once they learn that, they have that skill for life.”

IdeaBounce offers participants a “speed-dating” style of competition in which they have just two minutes to pitch a creative, innovative idea to a panel of judges. The medical school’s IdeaBounce participants, who could present medical, life sciences or unrelated ideas, were judged on three essential criteria: clarity of the idea, the passion of the presenter, and whether they clearly requested help. Within 45 minutes after IdeaBounce started, the judges had identified the top five competitors.

Student leaders

“I thought all of the ideas were good,” says judge Pete Peters, executive director of Innovate Venture Mentoring Service, a local organization that provides free, team-based mentoring of new ventures by business and entrepreneurial leaders. Peters, who teaches an annual course, Origins of Bioentrepreneurship, at the medical school, says becoming an entrepreneur is a learned skill.

“We really need to foster this spirit of entre-preneurship,” he says, “so that people feel comfortable about pursuing ideas and creating a viable business or product. There are so many resources at Washington University and around St. Louis that can help people bring an idea to reality.”

The university already has delved into large-scale bioentrepreneurial collaboration around St. Louis. It is a founding member, along with other area universities, of the Center of Research, Technology and Entrepreneurial Exchange (CORTEX), which strives to establish the region as an international biosciences powerhouse. In another effort, BioSTL, the university — with BJC HealthCare and the St. Louis Life Sciences Project — is working to spur bioscience company creation and drive economic growth.

“Washington University recognizes the need and opportunity to expand its research culture, to foster research innovation and entrepreneurship in addition to knowledge creation and publication,” says Evan D. Kharasch, MD, PhD, vice chancellor for research. “Turning research discoveries into products and services, so that the public can benefit from our research, is a major institutional goal.”

The BEC is aggressively expanding its presence, co-hosting interdisciplinary discussions on entrepreneurial topics with Washington University’s other schools, such as law and business.

“It’s a culture that is shifting toward innovation and bringing ideas to a practical endpoint,” says Elizabeth A. Germino, an MD/PhD student in the university’s Medical Scientist Training Program. “In medicine and science, you need collaborations and expertise. One of the strengths here is the collaborative atmosphere, but, as students, we’re so focused on what we need to do to learn our jobs that we may miss essential skills, such as how to clearly present an idea, pursue it, and ask for help and resources. The BEC is a way to learn that from like-minded people. IdeaBounce makes it fun.”


from the School of Medicine's IdeaBounce

A new spirometer design

PRESENTER Andrew J. Brimer, graduate student in engineering

PITCH Spirometers measure lung function, but are expensive, ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars each. A new, award-winning prototype would cut the production cost to less than $10.

NEEDS Mentors, investors, product development

Using miRNAs (micro RNAs) to diagnose lung cancer

PRESENTER Thomas L. Cohen, postdoctoral research scholar in genetics

PITCH By developing an assay using miRNAs, lung cancer can be diagnosed more accurately and cheaply than current methods.

NEEDS Team members, mentors, investors, and legal, financial and accounting advice

Mobile drug database app

PRESENTER Paul G. Gamble, first-year medical student

PITCH A mobile app will enable patients to determine out-of-pocket costs for various drugs and then identify comparable cheaper medications. This will aid in making value-based treatment decisions.

NEEDS Mentors, legal advice, advisors, investors

Genotyping to determine compatibility on dating website

PRESENTER Masatoshi Kaneko, graduate student in biomedical engineering and business

PITCH Adding geno-typing could enhance a suitable match based on intelligence and personality in addition to subjective preferences.

NEEDS Mentors, legal advice, strategic development

Online expert database for scientists

PRESENTER Dana M. Watt, graduate student in anatomy and neurobiology

PITCH To more cost-effectively allocate limited research dollars, an online database will share scientific expertise and experiments.

NEEDS Team members, advisors, IT, legal advice, operations and management