Shintaro Kaido is the Vice Provost for Innovation, and the Executive Director of Applied Innovation, at Drexel University, which is a Carnegie R1 research institution with approximately $140M in annual research expenditures. As Vice Provost for Innovation, Shintaro works with Drexel’s senior leadership and External Advisory Board on various campus-wide innovation initiatives to chart the future course of Drexel’s innovation ecosystem.
Most recently, Shintaro contributed to the capital raise and the launch of a new seed fund to invest in Philadelphia’s underrepresented startup founders. As Executive Director of Drexel’s Applied Innovation, Shintaro oversees a team of nine to deliver comprehensive technology transfer services to expand the impact of Drexel research. Drexel Applied Innovation consists of three pillars: intellectual property and licensing; industry engagement; and entrepreneurial development.
Prior to Drexel University, Shintaro was an early-stage venture investor with i2E in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Shintaro is a current member of the Kauffman Fellows, a global fellowship of 765 venture capital professionals founded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 1994, and is the first Fellow in the Fellowship’s 26-year history to come from academic technology transfer. We recently spoke with Shintaro about his experiences as a UNY I-Corps mentor.
What prompted you to begin mentoring for the I-Corps program?
Shintaro Kaido: As Vice Provost for Innovation, and the Executive Director of Drexel Applied Innovation, I’m responsible for expanding the impact of Drexel’s research, which is one of the five strategic imperatives at Drexel University. The I-Corps program plays a key role in this as it creates great opportunities for our research community to cultivate industry relationships and gain valuable insight into industry’s unmet needs and innovation challenges. The program also provides a safe place for postdocs and PhD candidates at Drexel who are transitioning out of academia to explore technology commercialization. I’ve always believed that scientists (who are incredible problem solvers) can become great startup founders, so I began to allocate resources for I-Corps at Drexel in 2018. Since then, I’ve participated in the I-Corps Teams national program four times – twice as an Industry Mentor and twice more as an observer. I’ve also mentored over 15 I-Corps regional course teams.
Of the teams you have mentored or instructed, are there any success stories that come to mind? Where are these teams now?
SK: I guess it depends on how you define “success,” but the I-Corps program is helping me achieve my mission to expand the impact of Drexel’s research in two different ways. The first is through commercialization, as four teams I have worked with closely became companies after completing I-Corps and received their first SBIR awards. Second, I am seeing a change in how Technology Leads develop grant proposals after completing I-Corps; they are leveraging findings from doing customer discovery to write more compelling narratives on the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes (a.k.a. broader impacts). I had several Technology Leads tell me that their grant win rates have significantly improved since completing the I-Corps program.
Why is the customer discovery process so important? And how do you support teams as they navigate this process?
SK: The customer discovery process is a great way to make the switch from a “faith-based” endeavor to an “evidence-based” one. Most teams heading to the I-Corps Teams program have an insight into a specific part of the industry value chain, but not the whole picture. Good Industry Mentors help the team navigate away from “confirmation biases” by challenging the team to stick with the I-Corps process.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
SK: My advice is to continue challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone after I-Corps. Try to keep the cadence you had during I-Corps in order to connect with your peer entrepreneurs, industry stakeholders, and investors. Leverage the customer discovery skills you acquired through I-Corps to learn what is most important to them and why.
What important lesson have you learned from being an I-Corps mentor and instructor?
SK: There’s so much to learn from the I-Corps program (content and pedagogy) that it’s hard to pick out one single thing. After going to the national cohort four times, I recently went through the regional course instructor certification course. It was there that several of the pieces which I was initially uncomfortable with finally set in; so, it took me several go-arounds for things to really sink in and settle into place.