An impressive experience of innovation and entrepreneurship

The TIP Innovation Scholarship Program is an immersive, experiential learning opportunity for students to engage in real-world technology commercialization and entrepreneurship. The program pairs students with tech startups in UConn’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP) for a summer learning experience.

Since the establishment of the program in 2012 189 students were employed in 60 university-related technology startups. This year’s cohort of 33 UConn students is a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from approximately 20 different majors in business, life sciences, health and engineering.

The majority of students are Connecticut residents and a quarter of them are from traditionally underrepresented groups. Many participants are the first in their family to attend college.

Strong participation in the program is consistent with growing student interest in entrepreneurship, as well as UConn’s and state’s expansion and focus on technology development, says program director Caroline Dealy.

“There are so many problems we have to solve in order to move the global world forward,” Dealy said. “We need different people to work creatively together. This program is a unique way to prepare students for the future. I hope it will produce the next generation of problem solvers and solution makers that we need.

This year, 220 students applied to the program. UConn’s TIP (Technology Incubation Program) host startups made 51 offers to mentors, a 117% increase over 2015, but due to limited funding, only 33 offers could be accepted.

“UConn has been very supportive of the program, but to keep up with demand, corporate sponsors and private donors will need to support named student scholarships,” said Dealy, associate professor at UConn Health, who founded the program.

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

Unlike traditional internships, the TIP Innovation Fellowship Program is an academic entrepreneurial experience designed to provide real-world experience in how innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies become products and services that benefit health and society. TIP is the technology commercialization services arm of UConn.

Asirva Alahari, co-founder of Frequency Therapeutics, a Farmington TIP startup, says that’s what drew her to the program.

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

Fellows have proven to be valuable assets to 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 it’s like to work at a startup company.” This is different from a corporate environment. We wear many hats.”

“They see the good, the bad and the ugly when they’re part of a startup,” added Frank Kuchinski, co-founder of FootTraffic Stats, a TIP Digital firm in Stamford that hosts three fellows. “Many things we work on, we don’t even know the answers to.” The ability to work with ambiguity is such a valuable skill. The product is a series of unknowns. Some people like it, some people don’t. We try new things every day.”

The academic structure of the program includes entrepreneurship training through summer seminars and workshops covering business development and strategy, patents, venture financing and professional career development. Many fellows stay with the host start-ups after the summer, either part-time or full-time, or extend their summer projects into long-term academic awards, capstone or research fellows. TIP Fellows will share their summer projects at UConn’s Summer Research Day on July 29.

“I’ve always been a STEM person, but I also knew I wanted to go into business,” Alahari said. “The TIP Fellows program has both, which includes my engineering and technology background, but you learn leadership skills and how to network.

“I found the workshops in the program incredibly interesting,” said Emma Graebner, a co-worker at another TIP Farmington startup, Oscillo. “TIP is really driving the business side of STEM education. I really didn’t expect it, but I really liked it.

Oscillo, a company that aims to combine music and neuroscience to fight Alzheimer’s disease, was founded by Edward Large, UConn professor of psychological sciences and physics and director of UConn’s Music Dynamics and Theoretical Neuroscience Laboratories. Although Graebner is not directly involved in product development, the rising senior music and statistics major can contribute her knowledge of music and statistics to support the company’s operations.

“Because I’m a music major, I can adjust things about the rig, like how the light works with the beat,” she said. Her knowledge of statistics has helped her create data presentations that are easy for non-experts to understand. Other tasks ranged from writing notes at company meetings to maintaining a website for recruiting participants.

Hill-Drzewi said she interviewed five or six students out of 220 applicants for one position 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 places for additional candidates, but I’m a one-man operation at Frequency and I could only commit to one.

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

Godfrey Kemp

"Bacon fanatic. Social media enthusiast. Music practitioner. Internet scholar. Incurable travel advocate. Wannabe web junkie. Coffeeaholic. Alcohol fanatic."

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