URI biotechnology and business experts help startups with planning, marketing management

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Kingston, R.I. – August 31, 2010 – Aspiring entrepreneurs are idea people, but sometimes they need a little help getting their product or services out in the market. In the health care industry of Providence, the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business joined vaccine and legal experts to help aspiring entrepreneurs navigate the business world.

Denice Spero, URI research professor and co-director at the Institute for Immunology and Informatics (I’Cubed) in Providence, taught a class called “Smart Vaccines for Entrepreneurs.” She collaborated with vaccine experts, lawyers, scientists, and URI business professors to create a science and business curriculum for their students at the institute.

“I created the class based upon what our science and technology experts have determined Providence needs. Currently, a lot of money goes out of state because the services needed to support biotechnology are not located in Rhode Island. We engaged class speakers to discuss a wide variety of topics. Successful entrepreneurs and CEOs, such as the founder of I’Cubed and CEO of EpiVax, Annie De Groot, have inspired students with their experience and advice,” Spero said.

De Groot and Spero recruited leaders of the biotechnology industry to teach students the theory and practice of biotechnology start up. “We first taught the students about the vaccine industry and companies. Then we gave students specific ideas for biotechnology-related companies that they could start in Providence,” Spero said.

The Providence Chamber of Commerce awarded I’Cubed a $20,000 grant to begin this program. “We hoped that it would provide a cross pollination – that the science people would learn from the business people, and the business people would learn from the science,” Spero said.

“There are 14 students with a variety of experience,” Spero said. “One student owns a local web design business, we have professors from Brown and Bryant University, URI students, an MBA from Babson College, and a veterinarian from Tufts.”

Science, law, and business made up the foundation of the course. After mastering biotechnology for two-thirds of the class, the professors encouraged students to put their plans into action. “The idea was for students to apply what they learned in a business plan competition,” Spero said.

Entrepreneurial Management Professor Robert Comerford said this is the first time URI business professors have helped develop technology-based business plans. “I introduced an overview of the whole plan and my colleagues all taught different sections,” Comerford said.

Comerford said this class was different because students signed up with the idea of developing a new biotechnology-related business in Providence already in mind. “They took more notes,” Comerford laughed. “But seriously, they were more interested in the whole system of starting a business because they came here to do just that.”

For the remainder of the course, Comerford, along with Douglas Hales, professor of supply chain management, Daniel Sheinin, marketing professor, Anthony Wheeler, professor of entrepreneurial management, and Frank Mancieri, business owner and finance professor at Rhode Island College, contributed to the class. They provided basic business training and demonstrated how to draft a business plan, explained marketing and sales management, and taught supply chain management for the health care industry.

In terms of marketing, Sheinin said that he helped students understand the basics. “Ultimately, the objective in marketing is to satisfy customers so that they become loyal over many purchases and many years,” he said. “Marketers build relationships with their best customers to understand how their needs and preferences change over time so they can continually offer new products that meet these changes.”

“The goal of this science entrepreneurship program is to have a positive impact on the biotechnology sector in Rhode Island,” Spero said. “We all hope to expand this as part of the knowledge economy.”

Sheinin said that to expand any business, entrepreneurs must first take the steps necessary to maximize long-term profits. “The four P’s are the strategic cornerstones of marketing – product, price, promotion, and place. Everything can be customized to the needs and preferences of their target customers,” he said.

With the 9-week class just ending, students will now form teams and write their own business proposals. By the end of August, the instructors will determine the best-designed plan, and the winning team will receive $2,500 to help start their business.

“Even if only one student gets their plan off the ground and succeeds with their business, the state will obtain benefits from this program. New employment opportunities, tax revenue for the state, and a new technology-based health care business will be here in Providence,” Comerford said.

Students will continue to receive help as needed during the next few weeks. They have begun designing programs such as diagnostics companies, a contract research organization for small animal studies in immunology and a peptide synthesis company.

“The best plan will be announced. Then, in order to fulfill these business plans, they will need to find the proper funding,” Spero said. “Our vision is to build Rhode Island as a center for biotechnology vaccine research.”