Where research meets commercial success: MSEC program provides scientists, engineers with business skills

MSEC boot camp speaker
At MSEC Boot Camp, students hone their professional presentations with an eye to pitching corporate investors.

Where research meets commercial success

by  Jayme Blaschke

MSEC program provides scientists, engineers with business skills

Few initiatives at Texas State showcase the university’s commitment to innovation like the Materials Science, Engineering, and commercialization (MSEC) program.

The exclusive program (applicants must hold at least a master’s degree for consideration) takes an interdisciplinary approach to equipping students with entrepreneurial expertise to develop their work to its fullest potential.

“We are providing materials scientists and engineers with the technical skills they need to succeed with their research as well as the business skills needed to commercialize their technology,” says Dr. Jennifer Irvin, director of the MSEC program. “For example, we work closely with the McCoy College of Business Administration. We have students getting M.B.A.s at the same time they’re earning Ph.D.s. That’s huge.”

MSEC’s success has everything to do with developing an entrepreneurial savvy in students that is relevant across disciplines. A key component of this is the MSEC Boot Camp Competition, where students hone their professional presentations with an eye toward pitching to corporate investors. The exercise isn’t merely academic — real money is at stake.

In May, Kosmik Energy, which includes engineering student Ricardo Ramirez and MSEC students Mahmuda Monne and Bhagyashree Mishra, was awarded $8,000 through the Boot Camp Competition to further develop its optical fiber lighting system, which incorporates light tubes as well as tracking sensors for sophisticated indoor applications. Another team, Zipcrack, which includes MSEC students Mithil Mazumder, Niloofar Heshmati, and Yuanfang Ying, received $4,000 for its durable asphalt sealant product for use in cold climates. Additionally, Zipcrack’s sealant has attracted the attention of the Texas Department of Transportation. “Road repair may not be exciting,” Irvin says, “but it is part of a multi-billion-dollar industry.”

Outside of the formal curriculum, MSEC sponsors weekly seminars on innovation during the fall and spring that are open to the entire Texas State community. For the past several years, MSEC has partnered with the Center for Diversity and Gender Studies, the McCoy College of Business Administration, and the Service-Learning Excellence Program to observe the international Women’s Entrepreneurship Week with special keynote speakers, business development seminars, and an array of discussions and resources on startup advice.

That’s an impressive track record, especially considering the fact that MSEC was only established in 2012. “It has grown into a robust program. I’m very happy with how it has evolved,” Irvin says. “We’ve graduated 26 students in the five years since inception of the program and have 35 students now.”

Recent MSEC graduates and the companies they are working for include: Amber Douglas (’14), Marvin-Integrity Windows and Doors; Travis Cantu (’15), Futurrex Inc.; Jeffrey Simpson (’16), Lam Research Corporation; Susmita Ghose (’17), Intel; and Raju Ahmed (’18), Micron Technology  Inc. “We are growing and building our reputation. We’ve become known internationally,” Irvin says. “I know our students are sometimes annoyed  when they go into interviews. They want to talk about the great research they’ve been doing, but the employers always say, ‘Tell us about this commercialization program. ...’”  ✪