With over ten years of experience in technology innovation in the energy industry, new I-Corps instructor Makini Byron is poised to bring valuable perspective to the UNY I-Corps Node. This summer, Byron will be teaching her first regional course, designed exclusively for participants in the GEM Fellowship program.
As the Director of External Technology at Linde, Byron works with companies and universities to develop technologies with promising market potential. She has a knack for discovering investment opportunities in successful problem-solving products and services, and is well-versed in taking research and development projects from idea to execution.
Before starting at Linde in 2013, Byron worked as a reservoir engineer at BP. She earned her MSc in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, and her BS in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University. Her research interests include hydrogen technology, CO2 emissions reduction in power generation, and other innovations that can work to reduce carbon emissions.
We recently spoke with Byron about what she hopes to bring to the table in her new role as an I-Corps instructor.
Q: What motivated you to pursue becoming an I-Corps instructor?
Makini Byron: The simple answer is that the innovative environment excites me, and I enjoy being around and working with entrepreneurs with a passion to succeed. I also understand that it is not easy. The I-Corps customer discovery process is a useful framework for advancing technology innovations to the market. Being an I-Corps instructor is a natural extension of what I already do professionally and is an opportunity for me to hone my skills while contributing to others’ success.
Q: What is the most impactful thing you learned while training to become an I-Corps instructor?
MB: Do not get too enamored with your technology. Although you may have come up with something that is really cool, it’s not a solution unless it serves a problem. Be willing to modify what you have until it resembles what somebody is willing to pay for.
Q: Tell us about your entrepreneurial background and how you plan to leverage it in your new role as an instructor.
MB: For most of my career, I’ve worked in R&D for a large corporation developing technologies that are considered transformational or step-out. As a corporate innovator, I have worked on more than one “cool technology” without a clear pathway to monetization. Having that experience is humbling, and I can empathize with anyone on a similar journey. Being part of a business with financial responsibility to its investors is crucial because I have a perspective on what it can take for a technology to grow from an experiment or a flowsheet to a commercial product.
Q: This summer, you plan to teach your first I-Corps regional course, which is designed specifically for participants in the GEM Fellowship program. As an alum of the GEM Fellowship, could you share your perspective on how I-Corps can be beneficial to GEM Fellows?
MB: This partnership exposes Fellows to an alternate career path, which I think is great. In some ways, it’s easier now than ever to start a business, with social media, more funding available, and large companies looking to partner with startups for growth. The structure of the I-Corps program provides space for Fellows to critically think about the real-world potential of their research – Is this something that people want? Can I monetize these concepts? – and obtain the entrepreneurial tools to get there. Entrepreneurship is not easy and there may be additional challenges as a minority, so having an all-GEM cohort enables Fellows to leverage a community that they trust as they build confidence in pursuing this high-risk, high-reward career pathway.
Q: What one piece of advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
MB: We spent a significant amount of time in the Regional I-Corps Instructor Training program learning about implicit bias and how that can affect the experience of entrepreneurs. Bias can impact not only how they engage with the instructors, but also their interview process and ultimately their success in the I-Corps course. The participants in the training were very open in discussing our own privileges and experiences with implicit bias. The discussion was powerful, but more powerful than that were the strategies we learned to make our teaching styles more inclusive. We also learned about resources to expand our influences and disrupt our own biases while still practicing hallmarks of an I-Corps course like radical candor. I appreciate the emphasis on inclusivity because it makes a real difference in increasing the success of diverse participants. The research has proven that diversity in entrepreneurship benefits us all.