Last fall, microbial ecologist Kei Fujimura took time away from her lab work to hunt down people with inflammatory bowel disease on Facebook. The postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), was doing a bit of market research, in hopes of starting a company that would offer people with Crohn’s disease and colitis personalized microbiome sequencing data that could help them manage their conditions. She and a fellow postdoc “thought we had a pretty good shot” at commercializing the idea, she says.
To help find out, Fujimura had applied to—and won a place in—a special 7-week entrepreneurship boot camp offered by UCSF. Step one, she learned: gauge interest in her product by interviewing 100 potential customers. That meant identifying people by means of social media willing to share their reactions to her pitch.
Soon, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) hopes to have a lot more biomedical researchers following Fujimura’s path. Earlier this month, the agency announced that it will, for the first time, offer certain grantees a chance to participate in boot camps like the one offered by UCSF. The goal: to see if a bit of training can help wannabe entrepreneurs make the leap from science to the market and increase the economic impact of the federal government’s investment in research.