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SPIN’s Inaugural Cohort Departs with New Connections, Mindset, and Tools to Move Forward: ‘I Highly Recommend This Program’

the first-ever SPIN Demo Day

Participants at Argonne for the first-ever SPIN Demo Day on July 27, 2022.

Led by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Strategic Program for Innovation at the National Labs (SPIN) earlier this year launched with 17 scientists and staff from Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Participants met at Argonne for the first-ever SPIN Demo Day on July 27, presenting their team projects. The goal of the program, which will continue into next year, is to promote entrepreneurial thinking at the national labs.

“The SPIN program was a valuable experience because it allowed me to collaborate and build relationships with folks from Fermi and coworkers from Argonne who I would not have had the opportunity to meet,” said Amanda Youker, chemist and manager of the Radiochemistry group within Argonne’s Chemical and Fuel Cycle Technologies Division.

Participants were tasked with finding potential solutions to a problem as individuals, small teams, and larger teams, explained Youker. Based on feedback from key stakeholders, they worked together to optimize solutions and shared their ideas with senior leaders from Argonne, Fermi, and UChicago.

“Some key takeaways from this program include learning from external speakers throughout the class to help build our project solutions, learning from each as classmates and teammates, the importance of culture and its relationship to innovation, sharing intellectual property information and resources with early career staff, engaging with key stakeholders, and bringing our ideas into action with follow-up discussions planned,” noted Youker. “I highly recommend this program.”

Through lectures and group simulation exercises taught by University of Chicago and Booth School of Business faculty, as well as external industry experts, the scientists and staff received a world-class education over six months on aspects of entrepreneurship, including developing a growth mindset, communication and collaboration strategies, intrapreneurship, and technology commercialization.

“The inaugural SPIN program exposed me to the value of an entrepreneurial mindset and provided us with tools, such as the business model canvas, and taught us to assess the value of a technology. Both the in-person and the virtual sessions were excellent,” said Charles T. Thangaraj, Fermilab senior scientist and IARC science and technology manager.

As part of the programming, the cohort also was able to visit Invenergy, a global developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions founded by Chicago Booth alum, Michael Polsky, MBA ’87, who endowed the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2002.

Thangaraj described the visit and discussion with experts as “eye-opening,” specifically, learning about how emerging technology is evaluated “and the vital importance of an innovative culture.”

“The SPIN experience will shape my thinking and has given me new tools to apply to my work and my team at Fermilab,” Thangaraj added.

Polsky was among several distinguished experts and faculty members who lent their experiences and knowledge to the cohort, including serial entrepreneur Jeffrey Hubbell, Eugene Bell Professor in Tissue Engineering in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering; Elena Zinchenko, adjunct associate professor of behavioral science and assistant provost for research; Margaret Fleetwood, adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship; and Juan de Pablo, the Liew Family Professor in Molecular Engineering,  and executive vice president for science, innovation, national laboratories, and global initiatives at UChicago, and senior scientist at Argonne. De Pablo also provides oversight of entrepreneurship and innovation activities at the Polsky Center.

SPIN is supported by the University of Chicago Joint Task Force Initiative (JTFI), a signature UChicago program dedicated to helping Argonne and Fermilab achieve mission success by opening channels of frequent communication and collaboration across institutions.

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