Public Release:  New master's program will focus on physics entrepreneurship

Case Western Reserve University

Future graduates of Case Western Reserve University's Department of Physics will launch new businesses or market high-tech innovations as they receive their master's degree. The department will introduce concepts like venture capital, startup companies, networking, and bottom line finances into its graduate program in physics as CWRU becomes one of the first universities in the country to train physicists as businessmen. The department will launch its two-year Master's Program in Physics Entrepreneurship this fall.

"What Stanford University is to the Silicon Valley in California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other colleges are to the Boston area, we hope we can be the seed for creating a high-tech culture in Northeast Ohio," says Lawrence Krauss, CWRU's chair and Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics.

Cyrus Taylor, the program's new director and CWRU's Armington Professor of Physics, describes this program as "a new model for graduate science education." He adds that he believes similar programs will begin to emerge at graduate physics programs throughout the country in the next few years.

Krauss foresees this new program surpassing the number of graduate students in the conventional program in physics.

"Roughly 10 to 20 percent of physics graduates from here and elsewhere go on to start their own companies, which are typically high-tech companies," says Taylor.

Assisting Taylor as the associate director of the program is Robert Hisrich, the Mixon Professor in Entrepreneurial Studies at the Weatherhead School of Management. The Financial Times ranked Weatherhead's entrepreneurial program as sixth in the world in January.

In the fall semester, approximately 10 graduate students will enter the new program. Each student will receive tuition support and a stipend.

Those enrolled in the program will be required to do a master's thesis, focusing on a new physics innovation that either will be launched as a new startup company, or as a solution to a problem posed by an industry partner at whose company the student will intern and work on a project.

The physics department and Weatherhead have developed a set of new courses targeted for these students which will be held in the evening, allowing for flexibility in the schedule for students coming from or working with corporations for this training.

The physics courses focus on modern physics innovations, while the Weatherhead classes are on entrepreneurship and related topics. Overall, students will take 27 credit hours for the master's program. Students also will have thesis advisors from physics and Weatherhead.

A new seminar series will bring in experts in startups, venture capital, marketing, technology transfer, intellectual property issues, and other areas of interest.

According to Taylor, the seminars serve two purposes. First, graduates will have a network of contacts that are world-class experts to call upon when problems arise. Secondly, it will provide a forum where the physics entrepreneurs can discuss their work and have their ideas examined.

Since Krauss' appointment in 1993, he has revamped the department's curriculum as well as renovated facilities for the department. Among those changes is CWRU's Board of Trustee recently approval of a new undergraduate degree program for a Bachelor's of Science Degree in physics and mathematics, a collaborative degree with the University's Department of Mathematics.

He sees it as a way of attracting domestic students into graduate education in science. "This program might encourage some of our domestic students who might not otherwise want to get advanced training to get training at the same time they learn about the world."

The new graduate program evolved from the Stieglitz Physics Entrepreneurship Lecture Series, initiated two years ago. The new program is supported by $1.6 million endowment from the late Robert Stieglitz.

Stieglitz's brother is Richard Stieglitz, president of RGS Associates Inc. of Arlington, Virginia, who cites the importance of business training for scientists. "Pure science training, like pure business training, is half a loaf. As a scientist in graduate school in the 1960s, I was taught the laws of physics, and how to postulate, validate, and refine concepts. In addition to that knowledge and technique, learning to present and sell concepts, how to take them to market is just as important," says Stieglitz.

He went into business 20 years after graduation and learned from the "school of hard knocks," he says.

"Even for scientists who do not intend to start their own business, knowing how to sell ideas and justify investments is just as important as generating ideas. The Entrepreneurship Program will teach scientists to separate good ideas from bad ideas in a business sense," adds Stieglitz.

Guests invited to speak at the Stieglitz Entrepreneurship series were questioned about the kind of program CWRU should create. Taylor says the consensus among speakers was that the program should be a master's-level program, housed in physics, and have Weatherhead's involvement.

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CWRU faculty involved with designing the program were Robert Brown, William Gordon, Krauss, Kenneth Singer, and Glenn Starkman, and Taylor from the physics department and Hisrich and Mong-Ha Hoang from Weatherhead.

The advisory board of industry leaders oversaw the Entrepreneurship program's development. Those board members are Christopher M. Coburn, vice president and general manager of Battelle Memorial Institute; Joseph P. Keithley, chairman, president, and CEO of Keithley Instruments Inc.; David T. Morgenthaler, founding and managing partner of Morgenthaler Investments; Frank E. Mosier, former president of Standard Oil Company and BP America and former vice chairman of the BP America Advisory Board; Richard Stieglitz; and Juris Sulcs, director of Corporate Technology at Venture Lighting International.

For information about the program, call 216-368-3710.


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