Many people with technical backgrounds have great ideas for products or services, but they don’t know how to turn those concepts into a business. A new graduate-level concentration created by the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, guides students through the process of assessing a technology’s commercial potential and launching a new venture.
Beginning in spring 2024, the technology commercialization concentration consists of a two-course sequence. Introduction to Technology Commercialization, taken in the spring semester, is a brand-new offering that explores such concepts as opportunity analysis, customer discovery, business models and funding sources. In New Venture Planning, taken the following fall semester, students learn about new venture teams, budgeting, growth strategies and other aspects of business operations.
Shawn Carson, senior lecturer in Haslam’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, and Dustin Gilmer of UT’s Bredesen Center are co-instructors for Introduction to Technology Commercialization. They created the new course with input and support from former Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation executive director Lynn Youngs (who has been teaching New Venture Planning for a number of years), UT Research Foundation president Maha Krishnamurthy and other campus leaders.
Breaking New Academic Ground
Technology commercialization is a relatively new academic field. While UT has long supported emerging companies through incubator and accelerator programs, this new concentration creates an academic path for students who want to learn how to put a business framework around a technology idea.
“We have the opportunity to plow some new ground here,” Carson says. “We can model ourselves on what other schools like Purdue and North Carolina State have done, and they’re doing it well, but we get the chance to create something that works for UT.”
With that in mind, the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship is currently interviewing to hire at least one tenure-track faculty member with a research background in technology commercialization. Department head Russell Crook explains, “Having faculty thought leaders conducting research in this area is vital. Not only can their research findings help us further understand the tremendous opportunities within our ecosystem, but they can also point out things that we need to be doing differently.”
An Interdisciplinary Approach
While the new concentration is Haslam-based and geared toward graduate students, its classes will be conducted in the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building and are open to UT students of all disciplines, including a few undergraduate spots. Carson is excited about the prospect of creating an interdisciplinary program that will appeal to students from all over campus. “There’s a lot of innovation going on in nursing, for example,” he says. “Nurses are very creative at developing apps and other ideas to make their jobs easier. Farmers, musicians, vets — they’re all entrepreneurs.”
Helping tech-minded students develop applied entrepreneurial skills is the main aim of the concentration. While Carson expects most who take the two-course sequence will bring their own technology ideas to build a business around, campus partners can provide ideas and concepts for those students who don’t.
“We have a great portfolio of technologies that are already developed,” he explains. “Whether you commercialize a technology for yourself or for a corporation, the processes are similar. The entrepreneurial experience is all wrapped up in this process.”
Stacy Estep, writer/publicist, firstname.lastname@example.org