But Will It Sell?

The students call it D2M. Formally, it is Discovery to Market, the Carey Business School’s innovative, nearly yearlong technology transfer course. D2M students are assigned to study discoveries and inventions—mostly from the Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer Office or JHU’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design—and conduct extensive feasibility studies to determine how those discoveries and inventions could be launched as commercial products. Last December, students from the Global MBA class of 2013 presented their D2M projects at the Harbor East campus.

The students must consider several factors as they evaluate ideas. Are similar products already in the marketplace? How have they fared? Would the proposed product conflict with existing patents? What sales and revenue might the invention generate in five years? In 10 years? Should the inventors set up their own company, or should they license the idea to a company that might be better suited to the heavy lifting of manufacturing and marketing? Once the students have answered these and other pertinent questions, they decide whether the products are marketable. If the answer is yes, they recommend a business plan.

Of the 12 projects from the Class of ’13, all but one involved medical inventions; the other was related to solar power. All four of the projects chosen for public presentation had medical themes: an automated retinal camera (from the U.S. Army’s Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center at Fort Detrick, Maryland), a diabetes therapy (from JHTT), a suturing method, and a treatment for macular degeneration (the latter two from CBID).

The audience of about 150 included Global MBA students, Carey staffers, JHTT Executive Director Wes Blakeslee, TATR C Director Ronald Marchessault Jr., CBID Executive Director Youseph Yazdi, and Kieren Marr, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ School of Medicine, who has served as a liaison between the medical school and the Carey Business School for D2M. Toby Gordon, the Carey professor who directs D2M, reminded the audience that most students begin with virtually no experience in science or law. “But what this course does,” she said, “is help them learn how to learn the crucial scientific and legal aspects associated with projects like these, in order for them to then go and work on the business aspects.”

A few members of the Global MBA 2012 charter class attended the presentations. One, Gabriel Plumer, who joined an innovation venture unit at pharmaceutical giant Merck just after graduating, spoke to the gathering about the valuable lessons he took from the course. “In my area at Merck, we get to evaluate new types of opportunities for commercialization, and the process we use is very similar to the process used in D2M,” Plumer said. “This course provides a really unique experience for students here. It’s the type of real-world experience you get when you come to the Carey Business School.” Then, directing his comments to the students, he added, “I’m here to tell you that, yes, what you’re learning here can be used in the professional arena, and I’m using it right now in what I do at Merck.”

Blakeslee also took the microphone to note the value of putting business students to work on some of the many inventions and discoveries made at Johns Hopkins. Discovery to Market, he said, “has already grown to where it’s become one of the great offerings we have at this university.”

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