SPIN’s inaugural cohort exits with new connections, mindset and tools to move forward: “I highly recommend this program”


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Attendees in Argonne for the first-ever SPIN Demo Day on July 27, 2022.

Led by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Strategic Program for Innovation at the National Labs (SPIN) launched earlier this year with 17 scientists and collaborators from Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Participants met on July 27th for the first-ever SPIN Demo Day in Argonne to present their team projects. The aim of the program, which will run until next year, is to promote entrepreneurial thinking in the National Labs.

“The SPIN program was a valuable experience because it allowed me to work with people from Fermi and colleagues from Argonne and form relationships that I would not otherwise have been able to meet,” he said Amanda Youker is a chemist and leads the radiochemistry group within Argonne’s Chemical and Fuel Cycle Technologies division.

Participants were tasked with finding possible solutions to a problem as individuals, small teams, and larger teams, Youker explained. Based on feedback from key stakeholders, they worked together to optimize solutions and shared ideas with senior leaders from Argonne, Fermi and UChicago.

“Some key learnings from this program are learning from outside speakers throughout the course to develop our project solutions, learning from everyone as classmates and teammates, the importance of culture and its relationship to innovation, sharing information and resources on intellectual ownership with junior talent, engaging with key stakeholders and turning our ideas into action, with follow-up discussions planned,” Youker noted. “I highly recommend this program.”

Through lectures and group simulation exercises taught by faculty from the University of Chicago and the Booth School of Business, as well as external industry experts, the academics and staff received a first-class education on aspects of entrepreneurship, including developing a growth mindset, over a six-month period and communication and cooperation strategies, intrapreneurship and commercialization of technologies.

“The first SPIN program introduced me to the value of an entrepreneurial mindset and provided us with tools like the Business Model Canvas and taught us to evaluate the value of a technology. Both the in-person and virtual sessions have been excellent,” he said Charles T. ThangarajSenior Scientist at Fermilab and Science and Technology Manager at IARC.

As part of the programming, the cohort was also able to visit investment energya global developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions founded by Chicago Booth alum, Michael PolskiMBA ’87 who founded the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in 2002.

Thangaraj described the visit and discussion with experts as “eye-opening,” particularly to learn how new technologies are evaluated, “and the critical importance of an innovative culture.”

“The SPIN experience will shape my thinking and give me new tools to apply to my work and team at Fermilab,” added Thangaraj.

Polsky was among several respected experts and faculty members who provided their experience and knowledge to the cohort, including several entrepreneurs Jeffrey HubbellEugene Bell Professor of Tissue Engineering at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering; Elena Zinchenkoassociate associate professor of behavioral science and assistant provost for research; Margaret Fleetwood, Associate Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship; and Juan de Pablo, Liew family professor of molecular engineering and Executive Vice President of Science, Innovation, National Laboratories and Global Initiatives at UChicago and Principal Investigator at Argonne. De Pablo also oversees the Polsky Center’s entrepreneurial and innovation activities.

SPIN is supported by the University of Chicago’s Joint Task Force Initiative (JTFI), a signature UChicago program designed to help Argonne and Fermilab achieve mission success by opening channels for frequent communication and collaboration between institutions.


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