To expose future business leaders to the strategic business opportunities provided by synthetic biology we hosted a speaker from a synthetic biology company and invited business students to attend. To create an accessible and relevant outreach program we followed the Outreach Planning Guide. An overview version of the guide can be found on the Database Page page
At the Mid Atlantic Meet-Up hosted by UMaryland we met CEO and founder of Spira, Elliot Roth. We were excited by how his company had taken bioengineering and turned it into a successful business. As more synthetic biology innovations are presented to businesses in the hopes of receiving funding or marketing support, it will be increasingly valuable to have business partners who understand both the science and the business opportunity presented by bioengineering. We wanted to help future business leaders on William & Mary's campus see synthetic biology as an investment and an asset. To do this, we invited either Mr. Roth or another member of Spira, the CTO and lead engineer Surjan Singh, to speak on our campus to some of our Business students.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
We connected with our entrepreneurship center to reach out to business students who had already expressed an interest in starting their own company after graduation and we met with three business students to discuss what they would like to see in the presentation. They all shared that their interest would be more in the potential markets, the timeline for synthetic biology developments, and some of the unexpected challenges that develop when doing this kind of work.
Consider How to Connect
In addition to talking to business students, we also connected with Graham Henshaw the Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship center and Clinical Professor at the William & Mary Mason School of Business. Graham shared about the speaker series that was held in the Entrepreneurship center. The new program brought in speakers to talk specifically to students who have an interest in entrepreneurship. The presentation and Q&A style was well received by the business students. With this in mind we moved forward with plans for a formal presentation and time for Q&A time. We followed up with Surjan Singh to give him as much time as possible to put together his presentation.
Search the Database & Adapt
The structure for our event was already determined by Mr. Henshaw's feedback and the subject was heavily influenced by the business students we spoke with. The goal of Surjan's presentation was to put synthetic biology into a business context, engaging more university students and future business owners in synthetic biology. This early engagement would hopefully lead to larger investments in synthetic biology research from members of the business community. However, we did still check our the Database. This kind of program combining business and a formal presentation was not as common as we originally assumed, but we did notice quite a few "interviews with stake holders" coming up when we searched using vendors/businesses option. We read through a few programs, namely British_Columbia's 2015 project where they kept incredibly detailed notes about their interviews with stakeholders in their bee project. The summary points outlined looked very similar to a business cost/benefit analysis and with this in mind, we asked Surjan to share about the financial benefits and risks that had been a part of his journey with Spira.
On September 26th Mr. Singh came to present to 21 business and biology students about his journey with Spira, the pitfalls and creative problem solving that went into making the company successful. Students asked both biological and business questions at the end of the presentation. His presentation can be found at the bottom of this page.
Reflect & Record
At the end of the presentation we asked students to leave suggestions for the program, many students responded that they would have liked to hear even more about the science behind Spira and bioengineering. This was a wonderful surprise which demonstrates that there is a deeper interest in our work beyond just business applications.