Preserving the Environment

What’s the Outcome of Combining Science with Business Savvy? Transformative Ideas

October 20, 2014
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What’s the Outcome of Combining Science with Business Savvy? Transformative Ideas
A new Caltech program will fund researchers making renewable energy breakthroughs--and teach them business lessons to get their ideas out of the lab. kuobo/Flickr
The Resnick Institute will get innovative concepts out into the world.

There’s plenty of startups chasing energy innovation, but the part that’s often forgotten is the scientists behind these solutions, who pore over research for years and are permanently fixated over microscopes. These researchers are the foundation of our future — but they’re also unequipped with the business acumen or the political wherewithal to transition their work into commercial ventures.

But if you’re one of these budding scientists (and not Elon Musk) looking to save the world, the Resnick Institute at the California Institute of Technology may be your next stop. With a $30 million endowment, the newfangled program accepted its first class of postdoctoral fellows earlier this month.

“Energy is a challenging thing to develop infrastructure for, so it’s not really suited for the venture mindset,” says Neil Fromer, the executive director of the program. “But there are innovative ways to fund early-stage ideas.”

Plucked from around the world, the four fellows will focus on transformative energy solutions that are typically ignored by venture capitals looking for a sound return on investment, but have the potential to change the world. Such ideas include green chemical synthesis, fuel efficient vehicles and energy conversion research on batteries and fuel cells, according to a press release.

While there’s no shortage of bright ideas and big solutions, the tricky part is translating the dense language into a sexy, business pitch for potential investors. The Caltechstaff will not only work with students on developing their work into potential commercial ventures, but with the help of their own funding source, the pressure is off to produce immediate results.

“In some ways we’re trying to reclaim the thought leadership on this issue,” Fromer tells Fast Company.

While Caltech is not home to the only sustainability institute, by focusing on the intersection of science, business and technology, it may be the one that can save the world.

MORE: Get Schooled on How to Earn a Computer Science Education for Free

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