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Science and social entrepreneurship

Moving ideas from the mind to the marketplace

By Kim McGrath Office of Communications and External Relations
Senior William Oelsner ('11)

For as long as he can remember, senior biology major William Oelsner wanted to be a physician. Then he discovered that by joining science know-how and  business savvy, he could improve lives more than one patient at a time.

“With last year’s passage of healthcare legislation, 32 million more people will be flooding a healthcare system already burdened by increasing costs and a short supply of physicians and nurses. Finding innovative ways to deliver quality healthcare has never been more important,” says Oelsner. “As a physician, I plan on being part of this movement, and I cannot wait to begin.”

Invention to Venture

Oelsner’s fire for innovation began in a biomimetics class his junior year — a course combining biology and business that teaches students to think like entrepreneurs. Using physical principles found in nature, Oelsner developed an idea for a wind turbine able to generate more energy at lower wind speeds. His design has been submitted for preliminary patent approval. In the past five years, the Office of Technology Asset Management has worked with 42 different Reynolda campus inventors, like Oelsner, to evaluate, protect and commercialize intellectual property — helping launch several spin-off companies.

Outside of Wake Forest, Oelsner’s wind turbine innovation caught the interest of the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), and he was named an NCIIA student ambassador. NCIIA provides resources for students to develop and deliver local events at their home schools to encourage socially beneficial innovation and entrepreneurship at universities and colleges nationwide. The Wake Forest Invention to Venture conference is one of these NCIIA satellite conferences.

“Each smaller NCIIA conference has its own spin based on what will best benefit the ambassador’s home community,” Oelsner says. “There are many resources to help bridge entrepreneurship and the sciences at Wake Forest and the goal of my conference is to make students and faculty aware of these opportunities.”

“The Invention to Venture conference will focus on the nuts and bolts of taking ideas to the marketplace,” says biology professor William Conner who will discuss funding options for faculty and students during the event. “Many funding opportunities line up perfectly with Wake Forest’s pro humanitate model. For example, the Sustainable Vision program offers grants for scientific ideas that can help build a better world. With Wake Forest’s emphasis on combining knowledge and social responsibility, the timing is perfect for our students and faculty to consider applying for these kinds of grants.”

The conference is cosponsored by the NCIIA, the National Science Foundation Partner’s in Innovation Program and the Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University.

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