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Tech Transfer offers a crash course for researchers on how to start a company

Emory's Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) recently teamed up with the University of Georgia's Small Business Development Center to hold a six-week FastTrac TechVenture course here at Emory on how to start a company. For six Thursdays over the past two months, 22 budding entrepreneurs from Emory, Georgia Tech, Morehouse School of Medicine, and University of Georgia have been learning about the nuts and bolts of running a new business.

"Several Emory faculty members have had success starting their own companies, and one of the goals of the program is to help make that group larger," says Todd Sherer, OTT associate VP and co-organizer of the event with Kevin Lei, director of faculty and start-up services in OTT. "Another is to let aspiring entrepreneurs know more about how start-ups work. We want them to be prepared for the process of working with business leaders and investors."

Todd SchererKevin Lei

Todd Scherer

Kevin Lei

Much of the course material comes from the Kauffman Foundation, which supports educational programs promoting entrepreneurship across the country. The program included guest speakers, facilitated discussions, coaching sessions, and homework for all participants. Topics included market research and analysis, financial planning, building and compensating a team, protecting business and intellectual property, business management, and identifying and working with investors, among others.

The group heard from five presidents/CEOs, three VPs/COOs, an executive recruiter, a patent attorney, and a venture capitalist. Donovan Moxey, a 3D animation software company co-founder who led weekly class discussions, told the group, "Venture capitalists want to know whether you are coachable. You should be smart enough to know that you don't know everything."

Many of the participants have already traveled down the start-up road. For example, in 2007 geneticist Peng Jin founded Effigene Pharmaceuticals, which sells tools for enhancing a gene-silencing technique that is used frequently in the lab. As a start-up, Effigene was able to recruit board members and secure a grant from the federal Small Business Innovation Research program, but Jin says he is looking for insight on how to take the company further.

"I found the discussion of financial issues very useful," he says. "For people trained in the life sciences, this type of thing doesn't come naturally."

Sherer says that because of strong interest in the FastTrac program, it will be offered again in the fall.

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