For This Nanotech Professor, Science Means Business

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This story appears in the October 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

Gurus & Grads
Gurus and Grads
A new crop of grad school professors is moving beyond books and lectures and taking a hands-on approach to getting their students started in business. 

Back in 1988, when Alain Kaloyeros was a newly minted Ph.D. in condensed matter physics, a friend working at IBM told him not to take a job at the University at Albany, State University of New York, saying it was a third-tier school. The friend had a point--at the time, Albany didn't even have an engineering program.

Kaloyeros took the job, however, and less than 20 years later, Albany is home to the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering--the nation's premier nanotech research facility--which collaborates with the R&D departments of 250 high-tech companies. Not to mention the $8.5 billion the college has received in private and government investment.

Building that nano-empire meant challenging business as usual and adding an entrepreneurial angle to academic culture. "As I learned about the traditional funding model for faculty members, I realized it was not sustainable," Kaloyeros says. "Researchers were fighting for a $75,000 grant to run a lab and hire two grad students. They built these little Kremlins that didn't talk to one another or share information."

Related: The Top 50 Entrepreneurship Programs

Kaloyeros' Grads
Ben Backes, B.E.S.S. Technologies
Backes, who graduated this May, helped found and serves as chief technology officer of B.E.S.S., which is commercializing technology that extends the life of lithium-ion batteries.

Mark Yang, Trendsformation Capital
In 2008, chemistry grad Yang founded Trendsformation Capital, an investment firm that funds socially responsible development projects in emerging markets.

Eric Eisenbraun, CNSE
Now a CNSE professor, Eisenbraun, formerly at Tokyo Electron, works to bridge the divide between academia, business and government by collaborating on research, not hiding it.

Kaloyeros envisioned an open-source lab that tapped into other sources of funding. Instead of pursuing theory, researchers would take their ideas through the development and commercialization phase. So the lab would make money for its partners, who in turn would support research at the lab. "It took a while for my colleagues to understand this is the future of science and engineering in the U.S.," he explains. "It doesn't mean the removal of the old model--we're just adding an entrepreneurial culture to it."

That means students can focus on basic science while seeing how it is applied to the commercialization of nanotech. The school has also broken down academic "silos" and created new degrees, such as the Nano+MBA, a joint degree with the business school.

Kaloyeros wants to make sure everyone gets the entrepreneurial spirit. At a weekly meeting, student and faculty researchers can have their research and business ideas critiqued by their colleagues. Continuing attendees get a 20 percent pay raise as an incentive.

Kaloyeros has other ideas, too. He thinks professors should be judged not on how many papers they've published or committees on which they've served, but on patents they've filed, businesses they've started, companies they've mentored and consulting they've done for school boards and local governments. "We need to take ourselves out of the self-focused silos in research," he says, "and follow a more entrepreneurial vision."

Related: Puppets, Poetry and Other Entrepreneurial Studies

The Kaloyeros Connection
More than 250 companies collaborate with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, and 30 of them have permanent R&D facilities at the complex. Here are some of the heavyweights that have bought into Kaloyeros' vision for open-source R&D.

Tokyo Electron
Applied Materials
Novellus Systems
Vistec Lithography
Texas Instruments
Dow Corning

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