Equipping the Next Generation of Biomedical Innovators and Entrepreneurs

This past September, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced  “Broadening Experience in Scientific Training” (BEST)—a $3.7 million awards program designed to help universities prepare graduate students and research fellows in the field of biomedical research for 21st century jobs, including those outside of the traditional academic tenure-track.

BEST awards focus on enabling universities to create innovative pilot programs that increase student and trainee exposure to an array of research-related career options—including through coursework, workshops, and hands-on training experiences. This type of supplemental training is especially important in the biomedical sciences—where an estimated 77% of PhD students ultimately pursue careers outside of academia, such as in industry or government.

The first set of ten BEST awards will provide about $250,000 per year, over five years, to support collaborative efforts between university departments and external partners that enrich graduate education and research experiences.

The 2013 winners are already working to implement innovative programs that provide communications skills training; promote faculty and peer mentorship; guide career planning; provide industrial externship opportunities; and support student entrepreneurial leadership.  

BEST awardees are also working to expose program participants to entrepreneurial thinking and provide training experiences for faculty mentors.

For instance, a BEST-awarded program at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University focuses on equipping faculty mentors to be effective “cheerleaders” for student participants in career-training programs—and on providing incentives to faculty members who are effective mentors.

And half of this year’s awardees are explicitly focused on promoting entrepreneurial thinking and management experience among biomedical students and research fellows. At the University of California (UC) Davis School of Medicine, for example, a collaborative “Entrepreneurship Academy” with the UC Davis Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is bringing in venture capitalists, industry executives, and entrepreneurs as mentors to help springboard entrepreneurial initiatives to commercialize science and engineering innovations.

Indeed, America’s colleges and universities are critical partners in stimulating entrepreneurial thinking and “startup” culture among students. As president Obama said in his proclamation of November as National Entrepreneurship Month:

“Our Nation is strongest when we broaden entrepreneurial opportunity, when more of us can test our ideas in the global marketplace, and when the best innovations can rise to the top. We all have a role to play -- from colleges and universities that cultivate hubs of innovation, to large companies that collaborate with small businesses, to foundations that support both social enterprises and high-impact startups seeking to solve the grand challenges of our time.”

We congratulate the 2013 BEST-award recipients and applaud NIH’s ongoing work to equip the next generation of biomedical innovators and entrepreneurs.

[This article is part of a series of OSTP blog posts celebrating the month of November as National Entrepreneurship month.]

Sean L. Jones is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP

Vicky Doan-Nguyen is a Student Volunteer at OSTP

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