But Can You Sell It? MBA Students Analyze IP Marketability

Posted: January 4, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: January 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm

By Jennifer Anzaldi

Jim Wolfe's MBA class on entrepreneurship works on marketing Mason intellectual properties. Creative Services photo

Jim Wolfe's graduate entrepreneurship class works on marketing Mason intellectual properties. Creative Services photo

School of Management (SOM) students are stepping out of the box by using Mason’s own intellectual property (IP) for their semester projects.

For four years, Professor Jim Wolfe’s MBA 711 course, Entrepreneurship, has worked with Mason’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) to give graduate students first-hand knowledge of the challenges they face bringing a product from the idea phase to the marketplace.

In MBA 711, students review a list of intellectual property at Mason and prepare a feasibility study on the IP of their choice. These feasibility studies are a first look, comparing the product or service and the marketplace to determine whether there is market demand and a chance for a fundable business idea.

Simply put, is there a business here, or just an interesting idea? Most marketing strategy is about selling the product or service. This is about determining whether there is a product or service worth selling — at any price, and at whatever cost of production.

“Having a patent doesn’t guarantee a successful product,” Wolfe says. “That’s just the beginning. The commercialization is another part of the process. Students are jumping in at the earliest stages of development. They are going beyond a simple business plan and into the nitty-gritty of how business works.”

The class discusses. Creative Services photo

The class discusses whether products are actually marketable. Creative Services photo

One project Wolfe’s students worked on was landmine detection technology. Ken Hintz, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, developed the Syntactic Landmine Detection technology, which uses syntactic pattern recognition mechanisms to detect landmines using high-speed imaging platforms in real time. The technology aims to help solve the problem of unexploded landmines that leave acres of land unusable and cause unnecessary deaths and injuries.

Hintz was impressed with the students’ work, saying, “The students I have dealt with are interested in understanding the technology and transferring that knowledge into the marketplace by understanding the product and determining if there is a market there for it.”

The feasibility studies are more than just a semester project.

“Students learn a lot and contribute a lot,” says David Grossman, Mason’s assistant director of Technology Transfer. “Professor Wolfe’s class has allowed us [OTT] to gain new insights into potential marketing opportunities.”

The projects are also kept on file in the OTT and shared with interested entrepreneurs who visit the office looking for their next big venture. And SOM students are just one piece of the tech transfer puzzle. In the past, the OTT has called upon students from across the university, having law school students write patent applications, English students write patent descriptions and engineering students develop the prototypes.

Collaborating across the university can bring great success for everyone, teaching students and letting students share their ideas.

“Entrepreneurs are not necessarily inventors, and inventors are definitely not entrepreneurs,” says Wolfe. “They each have very different skill sets.”

Classes such as these can bring these different skill sets together for entrepreneurial success.

The OTT advises faculty, student and staff on issues related to intellectual property and provides the university’s bridge to the George Mason Intellectual Properties Inc., a corporation created to manage the university’s patents, copyrights and know-how.

MBA 711 is a fundamental entrepreneurship course designed as an introduction to new venture creation and the entrepreneurial process. Topics include screening the opportunity, creating new ventures, evaluating the entrepreneurial team, product launch, financing and exit strategies. To learn more about entrepreneurship at the School of Management, visit som.gmu.edu/entrepreneurship.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different format on the SOM web site.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu