On Earth Day 2017 (4/22/2017), thousands of people in 500 cities around the world Marched for Science. Everyone seemed to have a different reason to be there – to support fundamental research, to advocate for their particular scientific discipline, to show the good that science does – but they were united in their support for science as a core building block of our society.
I was there to talk about the powerful combination of science and entrepreneurship. I’ve seen how scientific discoveries are applied to real problems on a daily basis, and how transformative this can be for the entrepreneur or innovator. I shared the story of emDream, a team of TYE students who turned a science project on nanotechnology into an early warning system for heart disease, using the scientific method married to design thinking techniques. Transcripts are below.
Many thanks to Curt Waltman for inviting me to speak, and to his amazing organizing team for making the Portland March for Science happen!
My name is Shashi Jain. I’m here to talk about the world-changing power of coupling science and entrepreneurship! This is something I see every single day as an Innovation Manager at Intel, where I do pathfinding with the Internet of Things. I’m also instructor and curriculum designer for TiE Young Entrepreneurs, a global program where we teach students innovation and entrepreneurship skills by helping them build their own businesses. We have a weekend program and teach in schools like Benson, Reynolds, and Rosemary Anderson.
Most people think of software startups when they think about entrepreneurship – hot new apps and services or big things. But there are great examples of big-thinking entrepreneurship. Tesla is making electric cars cool, Oculus is building us VR, Organovo is 3D printing body parts. My favorite is a little company outside Seattle called Planetary Resources that’s making ASTEROID MINING a reality.
No matter how large or how small, the entrepreneurs behind these ventures have one thing in common. They see opportunity everywhere- they’re not happy to live with problems. Like scientists, when they identify a problem, they test and iterate on solutions. They just use a different set of tools, like ideation to figure out which problems to solve, customer development and design thinking to make solutions relevant to people, and rapid prototyping like 3D printing to make the products themselves.
So how does this relate to science? If you’re a scientist, you should consider entrepreneurship. I want to tell you the story emDream, a student team that created a medical product from a science fair project. I had a student from Westview High School in the TiE Youth program. While he was my student, he lost his grandfather to a heart attack. It was completely unexpected – he was healthy one week and gone the next. Though South Asians are a population at risk for heart disease, his grandfather had gone undiagnosed. He wondered what he could do as a teenager. He shared this story with two friends. They had also lost relatives to heart disease. One knew a student researcher who built a science fair project using nanotechnology to detect free radicals (cancer) in the body. That researcher had also been affected by heart disease. They all teamed up and figured out a way to use that technology to detect biomarkers for heart disease in blood and saliva.
The first product they built together was a box that could give you a voltage reading. It wasn’t really usable – they hadn’t talked to users. They went through three revisions of building, user testing, and improvement. In a few short months, they had what amounted to an early warning system for heart disease. It’s an app and sample reader that you can use at home to detect the onset of a heart attack using a simple saliva test. What took days, now took seconds. Needless to say, they won our regional competition. This team is now commercializing this technology at the Oregon Biosciences Incubator.
I’m telling their story because they underscored one thing for me. Scientific curiosity about the unknown finds its mirror in the Entrepreneur’s drive to solve problems. Together they are unstoppable
So why talking about this here? Changes in our country motivated us to come here today. We may be feeling pain, uncertainty, or anger. What I’m asking you to do is not to make your participation here a reaction. Make it a response. Commit to using science to solve problems. Find other people here who can make that happen. My call to action is very simple. I want you to take 30s to meet someone you didn’t know before. Learn what brought them here and what problem they want to solve. Maybe you can come together to solve a big problem like eMDream.
I hope you march away from here thinking not just what you can do, but what we can do together. Because individually we may go faster, but together we will go much further. Thank you!