If asked the difference between an innovator and an entrepreneur, Mostafa Analoui responds with a classic example: Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.
The latter is the epitome of an entrepreneur, synonymous (deservedly or not) with everything from the lightbulb to the phonograph to direct current electricity. On the other hand, Tesla – the innovator – may have been more brilliant and prolific as an inventor but lacked Edison’s flair and business acumen.
This June, UConn’s Technology Commercialization Services is hosting the High Value Talent and Membership series, designed to help Connecticut’s own Teslas develop the skills to become Edisons.
Analoui – the Executive Director of UConn Ventures and a new member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering – is leading the series of workshops and teleconferences. The program brings together business hopefuls from across several state colleges, universities, and organizations to connect with industry leaders and experts.
Analoui hopes the attendees learn how to successfully evaluate commercial opportunity around innovation and understand key ingredients to convert their ideas into impact. Additionally, the concepts of scientific method apply to the innovation process and entrepreneurship the same way they do to research.
A workshop retreat took place in-person at UConn Stamford on Friday, June 3, with virtual sessions to follow throughout the month. At the workshop, Analoui explained that becoming an entrepreneur is not the same thing as launching startup, and attendees were not expected to launch their own businesses by the end of the program.
Entrepreneurship is not a glamorous business where you build a company and sell it off in two years for a bazillion dollars. — Mostafa Analoui, Executive Director of UConn Ventures
Rather, they were there to develop their own knowledge bases, network with peers, and have an honest conversation about what success really looks like.
“Entrepreneurship is not a glamorous business where you build a company and sell it off in two years for a bazillion dollars,” Analoui says. “Those are typical press releases that you see. But from my perspective, if you start this program and you create a startup that folds two years from now, you may think that’s a failure, but there’s so much learning that process.”
The June 3 retreat had a significant UConn presence, with faculty and graduates from UConn Health, UConn Law, and Storrs and the regional campuses. Other participants represented Yale, Southern Connecticut State, Quinnipiac, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, University of Rhode Island, and more.
Their specialties and interests were diverse, as were the problems they sought to solve through their entrepreneurial pursuits. For example, economics professor Natalia Smirnova of UConn Stamford seeks to help improve financial literacy skills within the population. Ravi Rajamani, a UConn researcher, is interested in helping Connecticut further establish its aerospace corridor.
Alice Nichols, a national coach in entrepreneurship led the morning session, challenging the participants to overcome inherent biases and teaching them what makes an effective proposal. The afternoon featured a keynote presentation from Kevin McGovern, founder of the SoBe soft drink company, which launched in Norwalk before selling to PepsiCo for $325 million in 2000.
Mentors in the program include researchers and innovators from UConn, Jackson Laboratories, Unilever, Wesleyan University, and Quinnipiac University. CTNext funds and supports the endeavor. The sessions after June 3 were virtual, and follow-ups and continued support opportunities will be offered as attendees look to launch their own startups.
“This workshop sets off the initial step for top innovators and researchers in their entrepreneurial journey,” Analoui says. “Upon completion of the workshop, each participant receives individualized mentorship and support for converting their innovative ideas to societal impact.”