Meet Polsky’s New Director of Science Ventures: How Out-of-the-Box Thinking Kickstarted Her Entrepreneurial Journey
Ozge Guney-Altay, PhD, has joined the Polsky Center as the new Director of Polsky Science Ventures – a role which she says brings together her two passions: academia and innovation.
In this role, she will be responsible for leading and managing the startup initiatives for science and technology at the University of Chicago.
Ozge is an entrepreneur specializing in strategic and fiscal development of tech businesses. She is also an operations executive specializing in R&D operations, translational research, technology and innovation, IP protection and commercialization. She has a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University.
After almost a decade as an academic, she was recruited as the Director of Operations and Outreach of NERC, a $20 million research center at Northwestern University. During this time, she also completed the executive leadership program at the Kellogg School of Management and started her pursuit as an entrepreneur.
How has your background prepared you for this job?
I am a chemical engineer by training.
I started my career as an academic, during which time I have focused on interdisciplinary research, mostly exploring the interface between basic sciences and engineering, as well as medicine and engineering. Interdisciplinary collaborations helped me understand the different angles of looking at a problem and utilize the different tools that are available, often from different disciplines, to solve it.
After about a decade in academia, I was recruited by Northwestern University to run their DOE-funded research center. The research center housed some the most brilliant minds from all over the country to lay the foundation of quite an unexplored territory, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, to create new energy solutions. I was constantly challenged to think outside of the box simply because there was not much precedent to rely on. This experience taught me to look where no one else has looked before and ask the questions no one has asked before.
Out-of-the-box thinking kickstarted my entrepreneurial journey. I worked with Northwestern’s Technology Transfer Office to patent our intellectual property (IP) as the director of the research center. Then I worked with the same office to get the exclusive license of that IP as the CEO of my startup company. Learning the ins and outs of how IP is protected, licensed, and built on helped me put together comprehensive scientific stories, gain negotiation skills, and fluently speak the language of IP lawyers.
The ability to put together well-thought-out, comprehensive stories played an instrumental role in how I ran my company, how I approached product development and marketing, and how I built my team. When we were ready for our exit, I looked where no one else was looking and told a well-thought-out story which led to the acquisition of my company within that same year.
Polsky Science Ventures brings my two passions together: academia and innovation. I have been very fortunate throughout my career to always place myself in dynamic, fast-paced, creative environments with open-minded people. I am very happy to be joining the great team at the Polsky Center that came together to tell a well-thought-out, original story.
What is something important you’ve learned from a peer?
It is important to listen to others, but it is also important to not limit yourself based on what others are able to envision.
It is never too late to start a new adventure.
What are you most proud of?
My students and people I mentored in different settings, in different roles. Being able have a positive impact in one’s life, helping them realize their dreams and potential, and having a continued relationship with them years down the road.
What keeps you up at night?
Misuse of social media… any powerful resource that can better our lives weaponized! I can’t imagine a worse nightmare.
What is your favorite innovation – big or small, past or present – and why?
My favorite innovations tend to surprise people. Bread is a good example. How someone came to figure out how to make bread is fascinating to me. Someone looks at a wild grass and thinks about harvesting and processing its grains! In 8000 BC! The creativity, the vision, the thought process behind it! Resource management, high value product identification, chemistry, how useful and widely adopted it was and still is… How is that not as impressive as the internet?