Fostering entrepreneurship at Argonne
By Suresh Sunderrajan (STPO) and Peter Slawniak (LEG)
Argonne’s Technology Commercialization and Partnerships Division (TCP) and the lab’s Legal Department support entrepreneurial activities by Argonne researchers. With the support of management across the lab, these organizations seek to ensure that researchers with an entrepreneurial spirit have access to programs and resources to make informed decisions about entrepreneurial pursuits and to increase the likelihood of successful outcomes.
What is an entrepreneur?
An “entrepreneur” is a person who organizes and manages any “new” enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.
Note the word “any” in the definition. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about forming your own business and the risk associated with quitting your day job. Large companies today actively foster entrepreneurial thinking so that innovations developed internally can reach existing and new customers.
Entrepreneurial thinking means that you’re constantly looking for a better way to do things, including how new advances in science and technology can solve problems that were previously unsolvable. It means that you are willing to get out of your comfort zone to enable those innovations to move outside the lab and into applications.
Argonne’s entrepreneurial spirit
Since its origins, Argonne has been home to entrepreneurs of all types — men and women with initiative and a willingness to take scientific risk to change the world. But impact does not stop with scientific discovery, which is why technology transfer, particularly to small businesses, is a key part of Argonne’s and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) mission to benefit the U.S. economy.
Argonne is always looking for credible and qualified business partners. Argonne understands that often the inventing scientist best understands not only the technology, but also the problem it solves. Over the years, Argonne scientists have collaborated with, and even founded, startups to solve some of the world’s toughest energy problems. A few include Advanced Diamond Technologies, SmartSignal, SiNode Systems, UNIVA Corporation, and Eichrom Technologies.
However, entrepreneurship encompasses much more than founding a startup, and not every idea is best suited for a startup. Argonne has created a number of programs to empower entrepreneurial scientists and engineers to play an integral role in the technology commercialization process right here at Argonne.
How to channel your entrepreneurial drive at Argonne
- Take a “course” in entrepreneurship at Argonne (“Engineering your pitch,” National Lab Accelerator program, Energy I-Corps [formerly Lab-Corps])
- Work with TCP or an Argonne collaborative center (ACCESS, Argonne Design Works)
- Work with a company through a sponsored research agreement (Cooperative Research and Development Agreement or Strategic Partnership Project)
- Report an invention, and work with TCP to help get it licensed
- Build and lead a research program at Argonne (Program Development Rotation)
- Work with a startup (as an Argonne employee collaborating with Chain Reaction Innovations or through outside employment).
It is important to note that the above items are not mutually exclusive. Argonne researchers are encouraged to explore and leverage any and all resources that will help them make more impact with their work.
Argonne has established a section on Inside Argonne that covers these ideas and others and is meant to be an on-demand resource for lab staff.
If you have questions about anything that was outlined in this article or anything else related to entrepreneurship, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and a qualified member of Argonne’s mission support team will be in touch to discuss and provide guidance and support.