New CNS Inventors program fosters scientific ideas that can impact the world

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

It’s not rocket science: the College of Natural Sciences Inventors program demystifies the way scientific industry innovates and commercializes products.

This program is led by Tim Riedel, the research educator for the DIY diagnostics Freshman Research Initiative, stream, which is a lab that develops rapid diagnostic tools. The program, which is offered for credit for the first time this spring, teaches students how to transition from research to applications. 

“It’s no longer about ‘can you do it,’ it’s about ‘will someone buy it,’” Riedel said.

He added that this program is different from most other entrepreneurship programs at UT because the students don’t have to come prepared with an idea. 

“We are going to spend most of our time developing … (and) poking holes at our own ideas,” Riedel said. “If you feel good about your idea, you are ready to do these hundreds of competitions and seminars that are happening all the time in Austin and Houston.”

The program started when some FRI alumni in Riedel’s stream decided to volunteer in the lab and continue to work on their diagnostic ideas. Eventually, the volunteer program grew into a seminar.

“CNS students, except for (computer science) students, felt like they were graduating with little knowledge of how business works and no network with any industry,” Riedel said.

Riedel said he wants to make the program a personal experience rather than a lecture-based class by allowing students to come up with a project and letting them run with it.

“The end goal is to have the student better prepared to understand how industry works, how products are taken to market and to be more strategically placed to get a job in industry, if that’s what the student desires,” Riedel said. 

Many of the entrepreneurial programs at UT help students and faculty improve their idea and make it marketable. Riedel said there is a gap between coming up with an idea and developing it.

For its first few semesters, the CNS Inventors program will act as a launching pad for programs such as the Longhorn Startup, according to Riedel. In the long term, Riedel said he hopes to make the program a stand-alone, incubator-style system.

Students currently in the program have diverse reasons for why they joined. Trenton Beckendorff, computer science senior, said CNS inventors is a good way for him to merge his research experience with his business minor.

“I can take the information I have learned in my FRI stream and find a way to bring that technology to market to actually solve real problems,” Beckendorff said. 

Carlton Rice, a biomedical engineering and biochemistry junior, said he sees CNS inventors as a way to bridge the gaps in the healthcare sector. 

“I see a huge disconnect between the researchers and the physicians and the healthcare industry. Being able to speak the language of the business side, physician side and research side is something lacking in society today”. 

Although this program is currently restricted to FRI alumni, Riedel said he hopes to make it open to all of CNS by next year. He said the program will teach students, even those without a science background, skills such as precise communication, lab techniques and critical thinking.

“It’s not all Albert Einstein with the crazy hair and it’s not all Steve Jobs with the turtleneck and amazing pitches,” Riedel said. “If I am careful to nurture idea-generators and people who traditionally don’t self-identify as entrepreneurs, I think we will find great ideas that might otherwise get lost.”