Ph.D. Student: Michael Suguitan
MBA Students: Adi Sembiring, Branden Karnell, Caroline Tofflemire, Christopher Nowacki, Phyllis (Changru) Tu
Could you tell us about the technology?
Our partnering with Michael was rooted in helping him build a commercial strategy and execution plan around the research he’d been doing in conjunction with his Ph.D. studies. Specifically, he’d been developing Blossom as a social robotic companion – powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) – that would be able to autonomously react to stimuli in its environment – from dancing to a familiar tune to shuddering away in fear of a sudden strike of lightning. The benefits of the technology are plentiful – and use-cases boundless, with the differentiating factor being the combination of AI and approachability. We’ve spoken with experts across the education and special needs communities who have seen almost endless opportunities to benefit children of all ages, genders, and dispositions. For example, special needs experts are excited about the potential for Blossom to be a filter for children with difficulty processing social stimuli. Children can look to Blossom as both a calming presence and a guide for their interactions. Additionally, we have spoken to teachers across the education spectrum that see Blossom as a potential gateway to introduce students to robotics for the first time. The accessibility of Blossom can uniquely appeal to underserved demographics in the space including girls and young children. Target segment subject matter experts (SMEs) were key to fleshing such attributes out.
What were the most valuable aspects of your experience with the Big Red Tech Strategy?
The experience itself was one of the most rewarding experiences for a variety of team members, as it presented an opportunity for a group of 5 strangers of all different professional, academic, and cultural backgrounds to come together and think critically about how to identify, define, and realize the value of something that presented legitimate social benefit potential – in addition to economic. At each stage of the journey, the different perspectives served as a means to cross-examine one another’s, and in doing so, provided a laboratory for the diversity of thought while also driving a more tested and efficient result for Michael and Blossom. The experience not only provided us a forum for cross-functional collaboration but also a crash course on business ventures. It further provided us the opportunity to hone skills in storytelling and market research, apply our finance and strategy core course learnings, as well as to just be overall more entrepreneurial – doing something to drive innovation and create impact for society. In BRTS you can both learn critical business skills and make a difference at the same time.
What advice would you give to other students considering participating in BRTS?
This program is an opportunity to immediately apply what you are learning in “Leading Teams” and “Core Team Practicum” to a real effort and, what’s more, it’s a safe place to do so. Make sure to pay special attention to the people that make up your teams, look out for what motivates others, where strengths and weakness are, and where you can learn from each team member. At the same time, make sure to understand your PhD and what is behind the story of their work. This interplay between personality, background, and motivation can make or break your project. When you approach the team with an open mind and a true desire to make a difference both for that team and for your PhD, you will be surprised how much you can get out of the experience! And such pairs with another key piece of advice in that: You will get out what you put in (and if you’re lucky, even a bit more)! Our team made it our mission that we would agree to a project roadmap up front, build a work plan underneath it, and drive to project delivery. We also had several check-ins over the course of the semester to talk tactically on how to support one another in our pursuit of the roadmap drawn up and signed off on. Having this roadmap and workplan and constantly checking our progress against it with Michael, but also with our Entrepreneur in Resident (assigned BRTS faculty/functional advisor), kept us on track and enabled us to maximize our time spent across workstreams. Furthermore, we found that having point-people over our given workstreams (with a buddy or buddies as practical support) anchored us and fostered a healthy level of ownership to deliver on the sub-project components. But most importantly, have fun with it! Bring your team members’ perspectives to the table and don’t shy away from tapping into a given passion(s). Such will provide more value to your Commercialization Fellow than trying to do something more by the book that will lack energy and richness.