The winnings!

Great Experience at the Rice Business Plan Competition

A visiting scholar from National Taiwan University came to Purdue in 2014. He was interested in participating Rice Business Plan Competition. After hanging out several times, he thought I was the right person and invited me to join his business team. Since I was also the alumnus of National Taiwan University (same major as well) and it would be a great opportunity and experience for me to do something new, I accepted the challenge and joined the team.

The Rice Business Plan Competition, hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University, is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition. The competition is designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches to generate funding to successfully commercialize their product. Judges will evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms. The judges are asked to rank the presentations based on which company they would most likely invest. The goal of the RBPC is to provide the best overall educational and entrepreneurial experience of any business plan competition.

In 2014, there were more than 600 teams around the world submitting their applications and only 42 teams each year would be selected to the competition. The first day was practice round and elevator pitch competition. The second day was first round and feedback session. The last day was semi-finals and Finals. In first round, 42 teams were divided into seven flights. The first and second place teams of the First Round and the highest scoring third place team overall advanced to the Semi-Finals (which means 15 teams total). 15 teams are divided into 3 flights. The first and second place winners of the semi-finals advanced to the Finals.

Our team, EcoBreeze, a company based on researching and commercializing innovative, powerful and green cooling technology for customers in LED field, was selected to the competition.

When the competition came, I was excited and nervous. The elevator pitch kicked off the competition. In the elevator pitch competition, each team took turns and gave one-minute speech in front of around 300 people in the auditorium. Some teams were very experienced with their vocal variety and gestures. The presenter just two before my turn was too nervous to speak, so he stared into space and sadly stepped down from the lectern after a pin-drop silence one minute. This made me more nervous. I never did elevator pitch nor spoke in front of so many people on stage. Everyone looked at me seriously. When in my turn, I took a deep breath and then walked to the lectern. Let’s take a look my elevator pitch debut. I knew I could do better now but it was a great try, isn’t it?

 

Later on, we had the practice round. We received very important and great feedback from the judges and then modified our slides and talk. It helped a lot. Our first round went very well and we advanced to the semi-finals smoothly.

Advance to semi-final!
Advance to semi-final!

In other words, I was disqualified to visit Rice University and other attractions in Huston the next day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The semi-final was in the early morning and I almost stayed up for rehearsing. In the semi-final, the judges asked a lot of tuff questions and out team did not respond that well. Therefore, I did not expect to advance to the finals. At lunch time, the host announced the finalists. Our team’s name was on the board!!

In the Final
We are in Final!

We advanced to the finals and would be interviewed by Fortune magazine! My tears were rolling down my cheeks BUT I had to hold back my tears to give a professional speech in the finals in an hour. The finals were in the auditorium containing more than 500 audiences and judges. I told myself that it would be the last speech. Keep calm. I was the BEST! There would be nothing impossible.

Group photo
Interviewed by Fortune Magazine

 

Our team did a great job in the final presentation and Q&A including showing the real devices and the ideas. All the guests gave big applauses at the end of the presentation. After the presentation, I walked out of the auditorium. I cried again since I made it and all the pressures were released.

Presentation room 1 Presentation room 3 Presentation room 2

 

 

Photo with President of Rice University

At the awards banquet, our team won 3rd place with $7500 cash award! WOW! What an unforgettable experience!

Throughout this business plan competition, I met many elite students and venture capitalists. They shared their valuable experiences and stories. Also, I had some ideas and knowledge of business model and how to run the business. These great experiences are much more than $7500. I truly thanked for my teammates for inviting me to the business team.

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Attending the American Society of bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR) annual meeting 2017 in Denver

What I learned from attending academic conferences

Me with my advisor and my lab mate at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017 in Chicago.
Me with my advisor and my labmate at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017 in Chicago.

Most of us who pursue a graduate level degree know that attending an academic conference is a worthwhile opportunity. Why? An obvious reason is we get to learn new knowledge in the field. From my experience, going to conferences benefits me far beyond this answer.

I do believe that attending a conference provides an excellent platform for professional development. First and for most, it allows us to put ourselves out there and present interesting findings from our research. This can lead to further thought-provoking discussion among us and other scientists in the field. Most of the time, we think and work on our own and it is always productive to have someone with fresh eyes critically share their thoughts on our work as well as what we could do to improve it. In some case, we might interact with someone who is working on a specific area that complements our work. In that case, the discussion can lead to potential future collaborations.

As a young scientist, I found both oral and poster presentation to be very challenging in different ways. An oral presentation is usually 12 minutes long. You have a 10-minute period to tell your story and another 2 minutes to answer questions from the audience.

Giving an oral presentation at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017
Giving an oral presentation in the Gene-Diet Interaction Research Interest Group session at the American Society of Nutrition meeting 2017

From my experience, you can excel the presentation part by practicing and putting a lot of thoughts on the flow of the presentation and limit the contents to where your target audience can follow easily in 10 minutes. Knowing your audience is always the most important key to success in a presentation. This is because you would cater the information, details to be included and words you use to suit your audience.

Presentation of my first research project on the impact of dietary calcium and genetics on 3D structure of femoral bone and lumbar spine.
Poster presentation of my first research project on the impact of dietary calcium and genetics on the 3D structure of femoral bone and lumbar spine.

The more difficult part for me is when you need to respond to questions from the audience. Given that I am already nervous to speak in public, I need to think on my feet in order to provide a sound answer to a question which I might not have thought about before. It is definitely challenging, yet helpful for developing my skills in communicating science. And remember, to master a skill, you need to keep practicing it. You might fail many times before you start to feel like you are getting better, BUT that’s a required step of growth 🙂

Apart from the opportunity to present your research, you would get to expand your circle of people who work in the same field and have similar research interests as you. As you can imagine, this is very useful and necessary especially when you are graduating and hoping to secure a job in the near future. Many people, myself included, dread the idea of networking. However, if you see it as an opportunity to getting better at networking (again practice makes perfect!) and you have nothing lose (since you might meet that person only that one time anyway lol). This helps put you in a productive mindset and might boost your confidence to go for it.

Attending Nutrigenomics Workshop at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2016.
Attending Nutrigenomics Workshop at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2016.

Also, networking can be very fruitful at times. Many times I heard stories of people who got their job because a friend of their colleague knew someone that can link that person to his or her future boss. Therefore, it is worth keeping your eyes opened and get to know new people. A couple of times I have met people who have become my good friends until now.

Another thing I appreciated from my experiences going to scientific meetings is I get to learn about a life story of thought leaders in my research area or their path to becoming a great scientist. I found this to be very inspiring and encouraging. Working in research requires a perseverance both mentally and physically. Therefore, it is very easy to fall for failures or failed experiments and feel bad for yourself in the course of Ph.D. study. Hearing how senior successful scientists overcome these challenges and thrive in this type of environment definitely help open my perspective and encourage me to keep working hard and determine to my goal rather than focusing on small setbacks that we inevitably cannot avoid.

Reunited with a friend from my Master's program.
Reunited with a friend from my Master’s program.

In addition to all the skills I earned from attending conferences, it is an opportunity for me to apply for financial support. Most research societies provide a travel grant for graduate students who have outstanding research work to present their work at the meeting. Applying for this type of sponsorship not only will you receive monetary support to attend a meeting, but also get a recognition for your research work which subsequently would enhance your profile in the long run. Besides an external support from meeting organization, I sometimes apply for a financial support from my college. Given that you presenting your work which has been conducted on campus, you help publicize the research quality at your university at the same time. Therefore, you are likely to get a fund from your university to go to a meeting.

Lastly, I enjoyed traveling to a new city as a way to broaden my horizons. Besides that, I get to meet new people as well as reunite with my old friends/colleagues. So I always have a wonderful experience attending a meeting both for my professional development and for my personal fulfillment.

 

 

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Jessica Eisma photo

PhD student Jessica Eisma impacts African dams

PhD student Jessica Eisma has completed a one-year project studying sand dams in Tanzania.

In 2016, Eisma was awarded a pair of prestigious research grants — totaling more than $45,000 — from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and the U.S. Borlaug Fellows in Global Food Security Program to study the ecological impact of sand dams in Tanzania. She flew to Africa in August 2016 to begin her study, which is the basis for her doctoral thesis.

Eisma, whose focus is in hydrology, investigated the ecological impacts of three sand dams in collaboration with researchers from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology.

In semi-arid regions of the world, sand dams are useful for capturing and storing rainwater into the dry season. The water is used for domestic or agricultural purposes, saving women and children up to three hours each day normally spent collecting the family’s water.

Her research aims to develop an understanding of how sand dams influence both the physical and biological changes that occur after a sand dam is constructed. Preliminary results indicate that a typical sand dam actually has a much smaller impact on groundwater levels than previously believed. Studies thus far have largely been performed on the “ideal” sand dam, when in reality up to 60% of sand dams are silted and therefore non-functioning. Furthermore, Eisma has found little to no trace of macroinvertebrate life in sand dams, hinting that sand dams do not create a suitable habitat.

This research is particularly important, because NGOs across sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly building sand dams, yet few field studies have been conducted to understand the greater impacts of these structures. Eisma says, “As civil engineers, we are constantly addressing the consequences of decisions made when certain concepts were still largely misunderstood. In a similar vein, I hope my research helps illuminate both the positives and negatives of sand dams before over-development occurs.”

Eisma also worked closely with local community water groups to achieve her research objectives. Volunteers from the community were trained by Eisma to take daily measurements of climate data and water table depth as well as bi-weekly erosion measurements. The volunteers will continue collecting data until Eisma returns to Tanzania in December 2017 for a two week data validation trip.

About her year in Tanzania, Eisma says, “The challenges were definitely greater and different from what I was expecting, but I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and conduct research in Tanzania. This experience has been irreplaceable in terms of developing cross-cultural competence and refining my scientific communication skills.”

Eisma plans to pursue a professorship at a research university after completing her PhD at Purdue.

Purdue design facility creates ‘magnet space’

$18.5 million Purdue design facility creates ‘magnet space’ for collaborative creativity, prototyping

The new Bechtel Innovation Design Center is aimed to become a “magnet” where Purdue University students, staff and faculty can move their ideas and innovations to real-world products and impact.

Innovators will be able to use the facility to advance conceptual designs, execute capstone projects, build prototypes and conduct product testing as well as further develop softer business and life skills such as team building across multiple disciplines and acquire leadership acumen.  

“Purdue is already recognized for its strong pipeline of innovation, and we all recognize the importance of an innovator or startup founder demonstrating a hands-on product in order to make a connection to investors and customers,” said Dan Hasler, chief entrepreneurial officer for the Purdue Research Foundation. “Creating such a prototype or product can be expensive and time-consuming endeavor. The Bechtel design center is a game-changer in filling this critical need at Purdue.”

The 31,000-square-foot, $18.5 million building will be available 24/7 for Purdue innovators. The center is located at 1090 Third St. and opened Sept. 23. Some of the assets available in the center include CNC tools, waterjet cutter, laser cutter, laser engraver, 3D plastic printing, paint and surface finishing, welding, wood working tools and electronics assembly.

Artist rendering

“Designing and creating a prototype for a device is one of the most challenging aspects for an innovator, and I spent quite a bit of time finding the right place to further develop a medical syringe that I had patented and am commercializing,” said Kyle Hultgren, founder of Image Medical Device life sciences startup and director of the Purdue University Center of Medication Safety Advancement. “The Bechtel center will provide me and other innovators with a tremendous asset to advance our technologies.”

Providing a hands-on environment in design and development fills an important need for students, staff and faculty.

“We have witnessed a tremendous increase in student engagement in design and creation of products and in startup creation over the past three years,” said Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. “The Bechtel design center provides them with a place to explore new ideas and put those ideas into action.”  

About 50 percent of the 100 Purdue startups based on patented intellectual property and the more than 60 startups based on know-how over the past five years have at least one Purdue undergraduate or graduate student in a leadership role with the company.

“The opportunity for Purdue engineering students to learn and create in BIDC will greatly enhance their overall educational experience ,” said Mung Chiang, John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering. “The College of Engineering is proud to collaborate with the Purdue Polytechnic Institute to launch this remarkable makerspace. The talent and programs in this space will further enrich the vibrant ecosystem for entrepreneurs at Purdue: turning our education and research into positive impact on people’s lives.”

Kyle Hultgren, founder of Image Medical Device and cirector of the Purdue University Center of Medication Safety Advancement, plans to take advantage of the new design center.

“Designing and creating a prototype for a device is one of the most challenging aspects for an innovator, and I spent quite a bit of time finding the right place to further develop a medical syringe that I had patented and am commercializing,” Hultgren said. “While the partnerships that I ended up making are invaluable, the Bechtel center will enhance these partnerships and provide me and other innovators with a tremendous asset to test our ideas and advance our technologies”

The facility is the latest of improvements to the Purdue innovation ecosystem. Other programs developed to help innovators move new technologies to the public include the:

* Purdue Foundry, a startup accelerator hub based in Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.

* FireStarter program to guide entrepreneurs through the “ideation” and startup development process.

* Express License, an expedient method for innovators to license an innovation.

* Student-owned technologies, a policy change that allows Purdue students to own their innovations developed as part of their university coursework.

* Funding resources, a number of funding opportunities for Purdue-affiliated startups.

* Innovation and entrepreneurship landing page to drive interested innovators to the right entrepreneurial resources online.

The Bechtel Innovation Design Center is dedicated in honor of Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., chairman emeritus of Bechtel Group Inc., who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Purdue in 1946 and received an honorary doctorate in 1972.

More information on the design center can be found here.

Adesina Lecture Series

World Food Prize laureate to speak at Presidential Lecture Series

The most recent World Food Prize laureate will join Purdue President Mitch Daniels on Oct. 23 as part of the fall 2017 Presidential Lecture Series.

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina
Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina

Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, a Purdue alumnus and president of the African Development Bank Group, will speak with Daniels at 6:30 p.m. in Stewart Center’s Loeb Playhouse. The event will be during the same week Adesina is presented as the 2017 World Food Prize. The World Food Prize, often referred to as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, is the highest international honor recognizing the achievements of those who have advanced human development by improving quality, quantity and availability of food in the world.

Adesina was honored as this year’s recipient in recognition of his work with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and as minister of agriculture for Nigeria. For the past 20 years, he has dedicated his career to improving the agricultural sector in Africa, having led initiatives to expand agricultural production, end corruption in the Nigerian fertilizer industry, and increase the availability of credit for smallholder farmers across the African continent.

“Purdue’s researchers and alumni have helped feed the planet by making significant contributions in science-based agriculture and food science, and there is no calling that is both more noble and necessary,” Daniels said. “Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina continues that tradition, and we are thrilled that he will join us to discuss his extraordinary work.”

As a Purdue graduate, earning his master’s (1985) and doctoral (1988) degrees in agricultural economics as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from Purdue (2015), Adesina joins Purdue faculty members Gebisa Ejeta (2009) and Philip Nelson (2007) as World Food Prize laureates. For more information, visit https://www.purdue.edu/pls/.