Michael Chen, Commercialization Analyst Intern

Michael Chen

Michael is back for the summer of 2014. He is currently working with Prof. Jeremy Hall and Prof. Frank Ko’s group on lignin based carbon fiber. This project is part of Dr. Lindsay Eltis and Dr. William Mohn’s Harnessing Microbial Diversity for Sustainable Use of Forest Biomass Resources (Lignin) project.  The primary focus is developing the commercialization strategy plan lignin carbon fiber that would potentially benefit Canadian economy.  The research he has conducted is based on the TCOS Framework, developed by Hall and Martin.

The TCOS Framework is categorized in 4 areas: Technological (Identify key technical and engineering hurdles and levers); Commercial (Identify the user needs); Organizational (identify companies’ key competencies); and Social (Identify the stakeholders and understand the social perception).Michael’s primary focus is in commercial uncertainty.  Within this category, he is collecting market information (market size, customer requirement, competitive materials, and complement technologies).  He is also conducting a preliminary cost analysis of lignin based carbon fiber in comparison with the dominate technology on the market, PAN based carbon fiber.  The primary way of information gathering is through information interview with key industry and academic leaders and through secondary sources such as academic and industry reports and government publications.  The findings will also be used as part of his final MBA graduation project. Read more about Michael’s background and experience at his profile page.

During the summer of 2013, Michael worked on Dr. Lindsay Eltis and Dr. William Mohn’s Harnessing Microbial Diversity for Sustainable Use of Forest Biomass Resources (Lignin) project with our intern Fraser Larock. The primary focus was developing the commercialization strategy plan for lignin-based products such as vanillin that would potentially benefit Canadian economy.

Prior to this position, Michael had worked in biotechnology industry for 3 years, developing biomedical device and implementing the manufacturing process. He is interested in connecting the engineering and science development with commercialization.

We asked Michael a few questions about his exciting internship and here’s what he had to say:

What is your academic background?

I am currently a MBA student from Simon Fraser University in the Management of Technology program.  I am passionate about engineering, so I did my undergraduate degree at University of Waterloo studying electrical engineering.  When I graduated, I want to focus on the application of electrical engineering in medical devices so I did my Master’s degree from UBC studying micro-devices for cancer drug study later on.

How did you come across this Commercialization Analyst internship with the Lignin project?

I learned of the internship program through Dorothy Keenan, Careers Manager at Simon Fraser University for the MBA, Management of Technology program.  When I learned that there is an opening for the internship, I applied immediately to jump on board.

What did you learn from your internship?

First, I have learned a lot about the use of lignin and its derived products.  Before, the start of internship, I didn’t know the wide scope of the application for forest biomass. The vanilla-flavoring application of lignin is very new to me. Because of the internship, I had a chance to understand more deeply about the food and flavoring industry. I was also very excited about the carbon-fiber project. With an engineering background, I have always been fascinated about the applications of composite materials. However, the internship provided me a deeper understanding of the market requirement of carbon fiber, not just from the physical property but from the consumer, government policies and business strategy perspective.

Secondly, I have learned a lot from professor Jeremy Halls’ group at SFU.  They have analyzed the uncertainty of new technology development under the TCOS Framework, developed by Hall and Martin. The TCOS Framework is categorized in 4 related areas:

  1. Technological: Identify key technical and engineering hurdles and levers.
  2. Commercial: Identify the user needs.
  3. Organizational: Identify companies’ key competencies.
  4. Social: Identify the stakeholders and understand the social perception.

It’s a great strategy for me to use in the future and I can’t wait to apply this knowledge to my future MBA studies.

You’ve worked in the biotechnology industry for three years before. Do you feel this experience has helped you with this internship?

Dr. Lindsay Eltis is an expert in microbiology. Dr. Frank Ko is an expert in Nano fibers. For the carbon fiber project, Dr. Eltis’s group is working on the modification of lignin using bacteria fermentation. Prof. Ko’s group is developing next generation carbon fiber material for electromagnetic shielding in consumer electronics. I found this project ties in nicely with my background in biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. It’s a very exciting opportunity to work on a project that combines both.

How has this internship contributed to your MBA studies?

The knowledge learned during the internship has fit nicely with the MBA program. The internship has provided a real life experience and example for some of the courses I have taken such as strategy, marketing and innovation for high-tech products.

Any highlights that you’d like to share?

I think the greatest highlight for me is participating with some of the information interviews conducted by Jeremy Hall’s group.  It’s an amazing experience for me to ask both technical and strategically questions to industrial leaders from various fields.  Because of the wide scope of the Lignin project, I have a chance to speak to people in the automotive, electronic and forestry industries, and the government.  It has provided me valuable insights to how each industry approaches to innovation and help to reduce the impact to environment.

What were some of the challenges of this internship?

The main challenge for me is at the beginning of the internship.  There are a lot of materials to learn so the learning curve is kind of steep in the early stage!

What other interests do you have?

For leisure, I enjoy baking pastry and reading.  I started learning golf a long time ago.  It’s always been a work in progress.

Any advice to future interns?

Ask questions. People are very friendly, so ask questions any time when needed. The people at the University-Industry Liaison Office were very friendly and helpful.

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