To create a company around a new technology requires both business acumen and technological know-how. To make the company successful, business people must know how to talk about science and to scientists. Scientists must learn the reverse—how to simply explain their highly technical product or process for business audiences.

This year's winning team at the Mays MBA Tech Transfer Challenge studied connection methodologies for interstitially insulated coaxial pipe.
This year’s winning team at the Mays MBA Tech Transfer Challenge studied connection methodologies for interstitially insulated coaxial pipe. (view more photos)

That was one of the takeaways for Ryan Goodnight, a member of the winning team of the 2010 Mays MBA Tech Transfer Challenge (TTC) hosted by the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE). With his background in engineering (he holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace from A&M), he says he had to learn how to communicate at a lower level, explaining essential information without overwhelming the audience. That was indeed a challenge, when the average reader might have difficulty even pronouncing the name of the technology (“connection methodologies for interstitially insulated coaxial pipe”), let alone understanding its function and place in the market. Goodnight describes his team’s technology as a tube within a tube that uses wire mesh, Mylar film, and air as insulation between the two tubes.

Communication is one of the many soft skills enhanced by the annual TTC, which assigns a group of four or five first-year MBA students to a technology created at A&M and asks them to determine if the product is marketable. The process is a meaningful learning experience for the students; it also provides business insight to campus inventors who are working to bring their ideas to market. Several past TTC technologies are currently on the market or in final stages of testing including the med-tech companies MacuCLEAR and CorInnova.

Participation in the challenge is part of the MBA curriculum. While students are allowed to choose their teammates, the technology is assigned randomly. Presentations are not judged on the merits of the technology, but rather the students’ effectiveness at evaluating its marketability. The depth of their research (which includes market analysis, potential barriers to market entry, and competition), as well as their presentation skills and evidence of product knowledge during the Q&A with judges, determines the winners.

The major challenge, says Goodnight, was to fully grasp not only a new technology, but to also determine if the product has business viability—all in the span of one week. The level of research necessary was intense, involving lots of reading as well as interviews with professionals that could provide them with a better picture of the market. The time limit created a real-world experience, since he may have to make quick decisions on the job about the attractiveness of an investment in a new technology.

Goodnight says that his team was fortunate to find professionals in the oil and gas industry that could advise them throughout the process. While potential competitors in the market didn’t want to share information, others were happy to help the group of students prepare, briefing them on the technologies currently available that might impact potential sales of their product.

A panel of more than 100 judges, MBA class peers and faculty members reviewed the presentations of the top teams.
A panel of more than 100 judges, MBA class peers and faculty members reviewed the presentations of the top teams.

Goodnight and teammate Alvaro Acosta set out to win the competition months in advance, as they started scouting out classmates to recruit to their team. “Our goal from the beginning was to win,” says Goodnight. “We wanted a diverse team of people who were not only good presenters, but that possessed excellent knowledge over a broad base.” They took on William McCauley and George Holzwarth to complete their team.

The final presentations took place on February 18. Sixteen teams comprised of 66 MBA students presented, in oral and written form, first to a panel of 20 to 25 judges, The top five teams presented to a second panel of more than 100 judges, MBA class peers and faculty members. A wildcard round consisting of the second place technologies from the earlier panels produced a sixth finalist.

The top three teams were rewarded with more than new knowledge: cash prizes from sponsors Paragon Innovations and Sterling Bank ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 per team. ConocoPhillips was also an event sponsor.

Goodnight says he got something better than money out of the challenge—an interest in an entirely new field of business. He had no previous experience or interest in oil and gas, but now he is expanding his career ambitions to include that field. He is currently considering an internship in the industry.

This year’s top three teams, technologies, and inventors were:

First Place Alvaro Acosta, Ryan Goodnight, George Holzwarth, William McCauley Connection Methodologies for Interstitially Insulated Coaxial Pipes/Tubulars Dr. Leroy S. Fletcher
and Dr. Charles Bolfrass (Mechanical Engineering)
Second Place Laura Seago, Andrew Folkert, Erin Hause, Hossein Shahim Raman and Inversionless
Semiconductor Lasers
Dr. Alexey A. Beleyanin (Physics)
Third Place Philippe Thaim, Paul Christensen, Telyn Joseph, John Lineberger Implant Radiographic/Surgical Guide Dr. Raed F. Ajlouni (Baylor College of Dentistry)