Sept. 7, 2023

Explore what an entrepreneurial path looks like for your research

Postdocs, research associates, and grad students: Apply to Evolve to Innovate program by Sept. 20
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

The Evolve to Innovate (e2i) program offered by the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and Innovate Calgary returns to support a third cohort of the UCalgary’s research community looking to explore what an entrepreneurial path could look like for their research.

Postdocs, research associates, or graduate students with the support of their principal investigators engage in an eight-month experiential curriculum for research and innovation translation. E2i teams participate in hands-on workshops, receive mentorship from experienced entrepreneurial faculty members, and can apply for a $10,000 research allowance.

The e2i program prepares participants to develop the skills required to make an impact by evolving their research to confidently explore its commercial potential.

Disrupt your thinking through the e2i curriculum

Dr. Sedigheh Mahdavi, PhD, was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering working with Dr. Arindom Sen, PhD, professor, Schulich School of Engineering (SSE). She applied to e2i to see how her research with enzymes, a nature-based solution to break down polymers in fracking instead of chemicals at high pressure and high temperature conditions, could be commercialized.

“My way of thinking was completely from the point of view of an academic scientist,” says Mahdavi. Through the e2i program, she was able to recognize the intellectual property from another research project looking at the application of green solvents for bitumen recovery while using a high-pressure, high temperature visual microfluidic device that can mimic underground reservoir conditions that she had helped design.

Sedigheh Mahdavi explored an entrepreneurial path with e2i during her postdoc

In addition to the eight-month curriculum, e2i teams who want to explore entrepreneurship further receive mentorship from the Academic Entrepreneurs in Residence (AEiR) program. “We would have these meetings to discuss my projects, which gave me realistic insights on the enzyme project’s application,” says Mahdavi. Mentorship allowed her to identify the need for field testing of her enzyme research to see if the enzyme would respond in real-world conditions, and the financial aspects and market value of the innovation.

The e2i program is often the starting point for researchers on their entrepreneurial paths, with Mahdavi then participating in both the AEiR and Launchpad programs. While participating in the e2i program, Mahdavi also benefited by making many connections within the innovation ecosystem and community and is now a technology adviser at Innovate Calgary’s Energy Transition Centre.

Graduate student Farzana Aktar applied to e2i to get out of her comfort zone.

Farzana Aktar’s research under the supervision of Dr. Frank Maurer, PhD, professor, Faculty of Science, is exploring virtual reality education and training use cases and applications. She started the e2i program with the idea to apply virtual reality training to the health and safety industry, with a first version of the software developed for fire safety training.

“I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” says Aktar, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science’s SEER Lab. “I wanted to see how far I can go and what's the limit and how I can pursue this idea, and if I have that leadership abilities or not.”

Her participation in the e2i program and the mentoring support from AEiR allowed her to explore her idea and conduct customer discovery and market analysis. This allowed her to find important insights about the industry, such as cost prohibition to obtaining hardware and how to pivot her innovation.

“When you are conducting research, you are achieving this self-growth. Through e2i and through the AEiR mentorship program, that's where I learned how I can have an impact with the research that I'm doing,” says Aktar.

Yiran Luo presents her postdoc research at a conference. She says after e2i she made the decision to become an entrepreneur and not just an academic researcher.

The importance of mentorship

Building an entrepreneurial path is a dynamic journey that demands a careful blend of tailored mentoring and a strong theoretical foundation. The e2i program, in its commitment to fostering entrepreneurship, has partnered with AEiR. This partnership offers visionary research teams support from seasoned mentors who have traversed similar paths, providing real-world insight to help them navigate pitfalls and capitalize on their strengths.

Dr. Yiran Luo, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate in the Mobile Multi-Sensor Systems research group with Dr. Naser El-Sheimy, PhD, professor, Department of Geomatics Engineering, SSE. Luo is designing a new global navigation satellite system for smartphones and tablets, and before e2i didn’t think she wanted to pursue starting a company.

“It wasn't until I participated in this program that I made up my mind to become an entrepreneur, not just an academic researcher,” says Luo. “The program and mentoring support had a lasting impact on my professional development and allowed me to gain a foundational understanding of commercializing research achievements.”

Devin Atkin is a PhD student under the supervision of Dr. Orly Yadid-Pecht, PhD, professor, Department of Electrical and Software Engineering, SSE. His research in the Integrated Intelligent Sensors (I2Sense) Laboratory explores increasing framerate while maintaining dynamic range and resolution in high-speed image sensors used to take photos for industrial applications.

Mentorship helped Devin Atkin recognize it is OK to take a step back to understand your product.

Mikayla Head

“In engineering there is this tendency to wait until you have something nice and polished then go and talk to potential customers at the end,” says Atkin. “AEiR helped me recognize that it is okay to go take a step back to understand your product and get those entrepreneurship skills before pursuing a company.”

The AEiR program supports teams who are eager to explore the entrepreneurial dimension of their innovations. AEiR mentors collaborate closely with these research teams, providing tailored guidance that spans a spectrum of critical areas related to entrepreneurship.

Learn how to Transition Technical Solutions to Impact

As part of the 2023 e2i curriculum, participants will take the new Design Thinking for Research Innovations Microcredential. This hands-on course offered by AEiR and powered by the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking is tailored for researchers who already have an idea or a product in mind and are looking to transition research-based technical solutions to impact. Besides e2i participants, this transformative microcredential is open to all members of the UCalgary community.

Postdocs, graduate students, and research associates across all faculties are encouraged to apply to the e2i program with the support of their academic supervisors by Sept. 20.

Faculty, postdocs, research staff, and graduate students can register to the first offering of the new Design Thinking for Research Innovations Microcredential until Sept. 29.

UCalgary is a leading destination for researchers to take action and move ideas toward implementation and community impact. The Innovation@UCalgary ecosystem supports these efforts through a culture of entrepreneurial thinking and determination.

Innovate Calgary is the innovation transfer and business incubator centre for the University of Calgary. As part of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) portfolio, and as a member of the UCalgary innovation ecosystem, we work closely with researchers, faculty, and students to help bridge the gap between discovery and creating economic and societal impact.


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