An Immersive Experience in Innovation and Entrepreneurship – UConn Today – UConn – Bendi Service

The TIP Innovation Fellowship program is an immersive, experiential learning opportunity for students to engage with commercialization and entrepreneurship of technology in the real world. The program brings together students from tech startups in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) for supervised summer experiences.

Since its inception in 2012, the program has placed 189 students in 60 university-related technology start-ups. This year’s cohort of 33 UConn students is a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from about 20 different majors in business, life sciences, health and engineering.

Most students are Connecticut residents and a quarter of them from traditionally underrepresented groups. Many participants are the first members of their families to attend college.

The strong participation in the program reflects students’ growing interest in entrepreneurship, as well as the expansion of UConn and the state and emphasis on technology development, says program director Caroline Dealy.

“In order to move our global world forward, we need to solve so many problems,” Dealy said. “We need all kinds of people working together creatively. This program is a unique opportunity to prepare students for the future. I hope that the next generation of problem solvers and solution builders that we need will emerge.”

This year, 220 students applied for the program. Start-up companies under UConn’s TIP (Technology Incubation Program) offered 51 offers for mentor fellows – a 117% increase since 2015 – but only 33 could be considered due to limited funds.

“UConn has been very supportive of the program, but to keep up with demand, corporate sponsors and private donors must sponsor named student scholarships,” said Dealy, who founded the program and is an assistant professor at UConn Health.

“Our goal is to influence as many students as possible,” Dealy continued. “We could have more than 50 students if we had the funding. Our growth is driven by the number of companies realizing the value of hosting. For long-term sustainability, the program needs dedicated financial and administrative support that grows with the demands of the program.”

Unlike traditional internships, the TIP Innovation Scholarship program is an academic entrepreneurial experience designed to provide hands-on experience of how innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies become products and services that benefit health and society. TIP is a division of UConn’s Technology Commercialization Services.

Asirva Alahari, a fellow at Frequency Therapeutics — a Farmington TIP start-up — says that’s what attracted her to the program.

“I wanted to get a feel for a real company,” said Alahari, an aspiring sophomore in the School of Engineering’s Manufacturing Engineering Management program. “I wanted to be part of a company that makes a difference and explores new frontiers.”

The grantees have proven to be valuable assets for the startups they mentor.

“It’s an incredible program,” said Melissa Hill-Drzewi, Senior Quality Assurance Manager at Frequency Therapeutics and Alahari’s mentor. “It’s a great way for students to see what working in a start-up is like. It differs from a corporate environment. We wear many hats.”

“They see the good, the bad, and the ugly in being involved with a startup,” added Frank Kuchinski, a co-founder of FootTraffic Stats, a Stamford-based TIP Digital company that hosts three grantees. “A lot of things we work on we don’t even know the answers. Being able to work with ambiguity is such a valuable skill. A product is a set of unknowns. Some people are comfortable with it, others can’t handle it. We try new things every day.”

The academic structure of the program includes training in entrepreneurship through summer seminars and workshops covering business development and strategy, patents, venture finance and professional career development. Many grantees remain after the summer ends, either as part- or full-time employees with host startups, or expand their summer projects into longer-term academic honors, graduation stones, or scientific research. TIP Fellows will present their summer projects at the UConn Summer Research Day on July 29th.

“I’ve always been a STEM person, but I also knew I wanted to get involved in business,” said Alahari. “The TIP Fellows program offers both, which leverages my engineering and technical background, but you learn leadership skills and how to network.”

“I found the program seminars extremely interesting,” said Emma Graebner, fellow at Oscillo, another TIP Farmington start-up. “TIP really encourages the business side of STEM education. It’s something I really didn’t expect but really enjoy.”

Oscillo, a company focused on combining music and neuroscience to help fight Alzheimer’s disease, was co-founded by Edward Large, Professor of Psychology and Physics at UConn and Head of UConn’s Music Dynamics and Theoretical Neuroscience Laboratories. While not directly involved in product development, Graebner, an aspiring senior specializing in music and statistics, can contribute her knowledge of music and statistics to support the company.

“Because I’m a music major, I can tweak things on the device like how the lights work with the beat,” she said. Her knowledge of statistics has helped her put together data presentations that are easy for laypeople to understand. Other duties ranged from taking notes at company meetings to maintaining a website for recruiting attendees.

Hill-Drzewi said she interviewed five or six students from the pool of 220 applicants for the only spot at Frequency Therapeutics.

“I tried to choose the one that best suited our needs,” she said of Alahari. “It’s a shame we didn’t have slots for additional candidates, but I’m a one-man company at Frequency and have only been able to commit to one.”

Students will present posters and oral presentations about their experiences during the Summer Research Day celebrations at the UConn Health Academic Rotunda in Farmington on Friday, July 29. The event will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m

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