Although his primary work is focused in the Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering on the St. Paul campus, Sustainable Systems Management Professor Tim Smith has been an important part of the Carlson Global Institute (CGI). For the past four years, he has taught IBUS 3080: Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, an undergraduate global enrichment course that includes two weeks of hands-on work in Costa Rica. The class is one of the many ways CGI is taking a lead in globalizing the University outside of the Carlson School.
“It starts from the beginning of what is sustainable, what does it entail, and why would a company care about it, particularly if it is not necessarily regulated,” says Smith. “Then it moves into issues of environmental performance, social performance, and involvement in the community. Many large multinationals are invested in processes for better managing these for their stakeholders.”
The course begins in October and runs through the end of the semester in December. In January, the students travel to Costa Rica to apply the knowledge and concepts they’ve learned. “We tend to look at agricultural products, because that is a big part of Costa Rica’s GDP, as well as tourism,” Smith says.
Students engage in data collection for resort managers to prepare them for climate change issues in their region. “It is great for them, giving them real, hands-on experience talking with companies of varying sizes—small operators and large hotel chains,” Smith says.
Most of the students in the class are juniors or seniors and many have really not thought beyond profit function on why companies do certain things, Smith says, which stresses the importance of reaching beyond your home area of study. “Other issues, sustainability, risk management, all interact with each other in interesting and important ways for students to expand some of their thinking. It helps them in the long run.”
Smith’s own collaboration with the Carlson School has even extended to his research, as he has had two sabbaticals at Carlson’s partner school in Costa Rica, INCAE (Instituto Centroamericano de Administracion de Empresas) in Alajuela. His current area of study is a project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation in collaboration with Stanford, Coca-Cola, and other partners. Smith and his team have been looking at different sustainable modeling activities where certain agricultural products would grow better and have less of an impact on the environment, sugar in particular. “It’s to help make financial investments smarter, especially when there are multiple dimensions of performance,” he says.
Smith says it’s critical that faculty work across units, because the outside world doesn’t see the University in that way. “They don’t see a difference between the Institute on the Environment (IonE), engineering, finance, or marketing,” he says. “They just see the University of Minnesota. I think we need to be a whole lot better in working together.”
IonE, located on the St. Paul campus, was founded in 2007 to lead the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. IonE supports interdisciplinary research, develops leaders, and builds cross-sector partnerships to identify and solve challenges that sprout up at the intersection of society and the environment.
IonE is also the home of Ensia, an independent publication presenting new perspectives on environmental challenges and solutions to a global audience. “I reached out to the Carlson Brands Enterprise to see if they wanted to work with us to update our overall marketing plan, strengthen our online content strategy, and develop strategies to increase audience engagement,” says Todd Reubold, IonE’s director of communications and publisher of Ensia.
The number one recommendation from the Brands Enterprise team was that Ensia needed to focus on increasing audience engagement. “The team developed a comprehensive strategy that is still informing our work over a year after the project’s completion,” Reubold says. “We shifted our entire editorial strategy to focus on engagement and impact. This has allowed us to strengthen the Ensia brand and better engage with our target audience of environmental change makers.”
Reubold says he could tell the Carlson students he worked with were fully engaged and committed to the success of Ensia. “The expertise they brought to the project was invaluable,” he says. “I’m a huge supporter of cross-campus collaborations. There’s such an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge and expertise among faculty, students, staff, and others across the University of Minnesota. By working together, we can increase our impact while being wise stewards on funds invested in the University to benefit the common good.”
It’s impossible to discuss the Carlson School and campus collaboration without mentioning the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI). Since 2005, MILI has been at the forefront of leadership education, research, and market development for the medical industry at the U.
As all MILI classes are open across campus, they have some of the highest non-Carlson student participation of any course offered here. As of summer 2018, there have been over 2,600 seats filled in MILI classes. Fourteen percent are non-MBA from 14 different colleges and over 55 programs.
“MILI functions as a convener as well as a catalyst for innovation and partner to advance business education in other colleges,” says Minnesota Insurance Industry Chair of Health Finance Stephen Parente, who served as MILI director from 2006 to 2017.
This advancement is done in a variety of ways, such as hosting U-wide seminars on research topics or engaging in joint program development for conferences with engineering and the law and medical schools. One of the most significant outlets for collaboration, however, has to be the Medical Valuation Lab.
Students in the lab conduct market assessments for new medical innovations—more than 30 analyses a year, in fact. Eight schools at the University, as well as the Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship and the Swedish medical school Karolinska Institute through CGI, have an agreement with MILI for cooperation and student engagement in the lab.
“The Valuation Lab acknowledges that different schools bring different expertise and the Carlson School does not have a monopoly on that expertise,” Parente says. “It engenders mutual respect across the colleges.”
Coming up on its 10th year, the Valuation Lab has enrolled more than 600 students from all across campus. Home-grown Carlson students benefit as well. “MBA students getting a MILI specialization get exposure through the lab and other courses in a way unlike almost all other health MBA programs,” Parente says. The lab won top MBA innovation of the year in 2017 from the MBA Roundtable, a global association of business schools.
Another program that was purposefully designed to work with students from across campus is MIN-Corps, the University site of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps. The program teaches scientists and engineers how to translate their lab-based innovations into products and services that benefit society and build the economy.
MIN-Corps was launched in 2014 as a joint initiative of the Holmes Center at the Carlson School, the College of Science and Engineering, and the Office for Technology Commercialization. Each of these groups recognized the synergies they could achieve by collaborating to accelerate the commercialization of U of M research-based technologies.
The program director of MIN-Corps is Carla Pavone. Working out of the Holmes Center, she designs and leads commercialization education and coaching programs for STEM students, post-docs, research staff, and faculty. “My job is an unending field trip,” she says. “Where I get to learn about amazing discoveries that can save lives, preserve the environment, and change the world.”
With the help of industry leaders and entrepreneurs who help to teach MIN-Corps courses and mentor its participants, her role is to educate innovators on how they can translate their technologies into financially viable business concepts.
The flagship program of MIN-Corps is MGMT 5102, also known as STARTUP: Customer Development and Testing, a two-credit, semester-long course open to students from across the U. “This class mixes together MIN-Corps scientists and engineers with students from Carlson, the arts, and the humanities,” Pavone says.
Over the semester, students develop their own personal business ideas through intensive customer outreach, incorporating that feedback to improve their product concepts and business models. “Each semester we offer a speed mentoring session, an afternoon of controlled chaos where a swarm of business experts—many of them Carlson grads—listen to student pitches, then circulate around the room to give top-of-mind feedback and identify who they might want to advise for the balance of the course,” Pavone says.
MIN-Corps is also working to increase the pipeline of science and engineering innovation developed by women. Last year, its annual Women Innovators Conference brought together more than 250 women students, faculty, and industry professionals to discuss innovation, entrepreneurship, and career development.
When it comes to cross-campus collaboration, MIN-Corps couldn’t function without it. “We bring Carlson School business expertise to scientists, engineers, and medical professionals in 22 colleges across the U who participate in our workshops, courses, and clinics,” Pavone says. “I’m especially excited about Sci Pitch, a new program we’ll be piloting in the 2018-19 school year.”
In Sci Pitch, science and engineering faculty and grad students will pitch their ideas to Carlson MBA students, who can apply to become MIN-Corps Fellows who help take the concepts a step closer to commercialization or startup.
“While Carlson offers other excellent entrepreneurship courses, MIN-Corps programs are devoted to helping participants who don’t have business backgrounds to advance their own innovation-based business ideas,” Pavone says. “The programs have also contributed to the professional development of science and engineering graduate students planning industry careers.”
One such student is University scientist Beth Lindborg, ’12 MBA. Since graduating from the Carlson School, she has maintained a part-time position as a researcher at the University’s Stem Cell Institute.
With her research group at the University of Minnesota, she started the biotech company Superior Organoid Technologies, LLC. It was with this group that Lindborg worked with MIN-Corps.
“I thought it would be a way to reinforce and to share what I learned at Carlson and through MILI with my University research team,” she says. “I thought it would help us become more unified with regard to a strategy and a path to commercialization. I was also curious to learn more about other groups on campus who were working to commercialize their research.”
Through MIN-Corps, Lindborg received help with analyzing potential markets and worked to develop a compelling story of how organoids could address customer need. Her team also received a grant to fund its first animal study to work toward a cell therapy for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.
Pavone also recommended Lindborg and her team for the National Science Foundation iCORPS program, where they ended up receiving a $50,000 grant for customer research. “It took our MIN-Corps learnings to the next level and enabled us to form our business model canvas,” Lindborg says.
A lot of the success of Superior Organoid Technologies can be traced to collaborating across the U. “As a scientist, I feel like we have gotten as far as we can go in our silos and respective fields without working across disciplines,” Lindborg says. “Cross campus collaborations are certainly not for the faint of heart—we all have our own languages and our own ideas of what is important or critical to a project. But I would go as far as to say that not collaborating with other departments and in other fields is irresponsible.”
Lindborg says that true medical innovations, such as breakthrough therapies for brain disorders, growing new organs, and curing cancer—all research that is happening now because of cross collaborations at the U—are only going to happen if people break out of the comfort zones and work with people who think differently than they do.
“I’d love to see our resources and talents leveraged even more in this regard,” she says. “Students interacting with industry partners on campus would help industry partners recruit great talent and enable students to land better jobs after graduation. And new, innovative technologies developed using University resources would help fuel Minnesota’s economy.”
One of the first-ever collaborative classes at the Carlson School was New Product Design and Business Development (NPDBD). It was an initiative than began with a set of faculty from the Carlson School and from the College of Science and Engineering.
The purpose of the class is to bring together business and engineering students to work on a project for a real-world client by conducting market research, developing product prototypes, and crafting business plans. Students get a great hands-on, applied learning experience, while at the same time gaining insights into other disciplines.
“The U divides itself into academic areas, but the industry doesn’t have those boundaries—they think in terms of products and markets,” says Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship Associate Professor Daniel Forbes, who is in his fourth year as one of the class instructors.
The class currently holds 36 students, 18 from Carlson and 18 from engineering. “We deliberately try to observe that balance because the course works best from that mix,” Forbes says. “It’s a critical mass of business knowledge and mechanical knowledge.”
Renato Conedera is in his second year in the mechanical engineering MS program. “Currently, I am a process engineer for a medical device company in the Twin Cities area. The goal of my degree is to gain more technical knowledge to manage other engineers and take the lead on development projects,” he says.
Conedera says his two biggest takeaways from the class were gaining project management experience and learning how to deal with a client. “Not all clients are perfect, and dealing with their asks, contradicting wants, and the way they operate was incredibly helpful,” he says.
He also appreciated the student make-up of the class. “I wish there was more cross-campus collaboration where engineering students can work with design students, or business students could work with dental school students,” he says. “The value of knowing how to work with other disciplines and, more importantly, their roles and their value added to a project is critical.”
Conedera’s classmate, Jessica Harren, agrees with his assessment. “I grew in appreciation for my colleagues who are in the engineering field and they grew in appreciation for those of us on the business side,” says the Class of 2020 MBA student.
She calls NPDBD a front row opportunity. “It’s one thing to read about new product design, but to actually apply it was really valuable,” she says. “You learn not only about the concept and the theory, but you get to experience firsthand the steps of developing a new product.”
And, classmates had the added bonus of each other’s diverse skill set. “In new product development, you’re often working on a cross-functional team and so this class forged an opportunity to operate in that type of environment,” she says. “You really start to understand how different functions are needed in order to do new product development well and I would say that was an invaluable learning from this class that you can’t really learn in any other way.”
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