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Curriculum Development Grant Expands Entrepreneurship Lab

November 20, 2015

A curriculum development grant from VentureWell, a nonprofit organization that supports technology entrepreneurship, will allow the Master of Science in Law program to expand its Entrepreneurship Lab, a key component of the program’s unique curriculum.

“We’re very excited about this grant and how it will enhance the MSL program,” said Leslie Oster, clinical associate professor of law and director of the Master of Science in Law program. “VentureWell is widely recognized for helping schools build their offerings in entrepreneurship education; this support is a vote of confidence in the MSL program, and the Entrepreneurship Lab in particular.”

VentureWell sponsors a series of grant programs that are designed to inspire and support young entrepreneurs. The grant for the Entrepreneurship Lab was awarded under the highly competitive faculty grants program, from which only 14 percent of proposals in the Spring 2015 grant cycle were funded.

Now in its second year, the MSL program breaks down traditional educational silos, focusing on the intersection of law, business, and technology as it relates to innovation and entrepreneurialism. The program provides focused, practical, business-centered legal training to STEM professionals through a curriculum designed specifically to help professionals work across disciplines, recognize obstacles and risks, and visualize opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship.

“A lack of understanding of the relevant legal and regulatory issues can be the biggest obstacle to technological innovation and commercialization,” Oster said. “These topics are all too often missing in entrepreneurship education. We created the MSL program to address this gap.”

The Entrepreneurship Lab is a course designed to teach students how ideas become business enterprises. Students begin by developing product concepts through a series of questions, such as: What is the problem solved by this technology? Who are the customers? What is the value proposition? From there, the students work on the fundamentals of starting a company, from entity formation and basic intellectual property protections, to potential regulatory pathways for their product.

The course is taught by Jonathan Gunn (JD ’13), co-founder and CEO of the award-winning surgical technology company, Briteseed, LLC. Before Gunn came to the Law School, he earned doctoral degrees in Materials Science and Engineering and Nanotechnology from the University of Washington. He has published in the fields of biomedical and biomaterials engineering, holds numerous patents, and has been awarded research awards by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

As a student at Northwestern, Gunn participated in NUvention, a campus-wide interdisciplinary initiative in which students from different disciplines form teams and spend two quarters collaborating on projects and following their ideas through the commercialization life cycle.

Briteseed is the result of Gunn’s participation in NUvention; his teammates then are his business partners now, and the device they developed has earned their company more than a million in start-up funding as well as numerous awards.

Last year, students in the Entrepreneurship Lab formed teams that worked on projects related to preventing falls by senior citizens and hospital-associated infections (HAI) in health care settings; these projects culminated in team pitches to the directors of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center and Insight Accelerator Labs.

Thanks to the VentureWell grant, Gunn and Oster are able to expand the program to include a longer development runway, prototyping and testing capacities, and more outside mentorship support from local technology incubators.

“The students in the MSL program this year are very entrepreneurial,” Oster said. “I expect we will see viable ideas emerge from the Entrepreneurship Lab this year. Even beyond that, though, just from participating in the lab, our students will learn a lot about how to put their ideas into practice.”

This story is an updated version of an article that appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the Northwestern Law Reporter.