Mi Jung Park, credit Rasmus Stig Beck Jensen

Mi Jung Park's research could make her startup dream come true

Friday 09 Feb 24

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Mi Jung Park
Associate Professor
DTU Compute

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Mark Bernhard Riis
Head of Innovation
DTU Compute
+45 45 25 52 22

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Rasmus Stig Beck Jensen
Business Unit Manager
DTU Compute

Entrepreneurship and DTU

  • In February, a new guide for digital entrepreneurship will be released. The guide aims to inspire and contribute to promoting the establishment of more startups in computer/data science and AI. The guide is based on the latest research and practices in entrepreneurship and is developed by DTU and the University of Copenhagen, supported by DIREC - Digital Research Centre Denmark.
  • When a researcher bases a startup on DTU knowledge, a contract clearly defines ownership and the use of DTU research in the startup.
  • There are several criteria for startups when DTU Compute is assisting:
  • The startup should be research-based, making it unique and giving it ‘weight’, and providing a somewhat longer runway for the company, making it easier to attract investors.
  • The startup should change the world for the better.
  • Collaboration with a company should ideally provide access to new data that can be used in research and education, contributing to capacity building.

DTU Skylab startup programmes

If you have a great idea, sign up for one of DTU Skylab's various startup programmes. Deadline February 11, 2024 - 23:59

Learn more here

DTU's startup system helps build companies based on research knowledge and supports researchers in creating a successful dual career path in research and entrepreneurship. At DTU Compute, younger researchers, especially women, now play a more significant role than before.

In the evening, when her daughter is asleep, Associate Professor Mi Jung Park dedicates her time to exploring the potential of launching a business leveraging her extensive expertise in machine learning and privacy-preserving data analysis.

Originally from Korea, she obtained both her master's and PhD in the US and held positions at several European universities before joining DTU in August 2023, coming from The University of British Columbia in Canada, on a seven-year research grant from Novo Nordisk.

When joined the Cognitive Systems section at DTU Compute last summer, she initially had envisioned working as a consultant for both public and private entities seeking guidance on sharing datasets across organizations without compromising privacy. However, she discovered that this area was not widely explored, mainly due to the significant challenges associated with data sharing.

"Having worked with this technology since 2017, I believed it had reached a level of maturity suitable for product utilization, but I found that there were not many companies using these technologies. It's an ideal opportunity for a startup alongside my ongoing research," notes Mi Jung Park.

Currently, Mi Jung Park is part of a growing trend at DTU Compute, where startup concepts from female researchers are gaining prominence.

The wish to change the world

Normally, DTU Compute's startup team, available for the department's staff at no cost, works on 10-15 cases where researchers propose ideas for startups based on their research. However, something has changed in recent years.

"A few years ago, perhaps every tenth company had a female researcher behind it. Now, it's at least half. Earlier, 1 in 5 of our startup cases had a female founder, but today it's up to half," says Business Unit Manager Rasmus Stig Beck Jensen, supplemented by Head of Innovation at DTU Compute Mark Riis, who addresses visibility:

"At the Digital Tech Summit conference in November and the year before, several of our female researchers pitched their ideas. The fact that women step forward as entrepreneurs and perform well can inspire others to believe they also have something to offer. I also think the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) have changed something and are a significant motivation for many young people. They feel they can play a role and make a difference. The motivation is often that you want to see your research change the world, and you want to do something with the research, create something, scale it, and create a solution."

Younger researchers act different

DTU does a lot to demystify starting a startup and explain that it is also a career path. When a new group of PhD students starts, the department invites them for a discussion on entrepreneurship to plant a seed.

The entrepreneurship ecosystem at DTU has also evolved significantly in recent years, led by DTU Skylab, offering courses, especially for young researchers, including specific efforts targeting women, to consider the possibility of starting their own business based on research. At the same time, researchers can seek financial support in a support system to develop physical as well as digital prototypes or buy time to explore business ideas further.

The innovation experts at DTU Compute see the development with women as part of a younger generation that generally thinks differently about their careers.

"I believe in a strong synergy between the startup and research. The real-world needs can drive my research forward. Similarly, the output can help in the real world. And things also move very quickly in data science. After two years, the technology may not be relevant anymore, so it's important to integrating ongoing research into daily operations to ensure the company remains relevant and evolves continuously"
Mi Jung Park, Associate Professor at DTU Compute

"I simply believe that the younger generation has a much greater acceptance that creating companies is something you do," says Rasmus Stig Beck Jensen.

It can benefit their research because they may gain access to more specific data. Researchers also say that the mindset they acquire by thinking like an entrepreneur can be useful in research and strengthen their research practices. The experience may also be that researchers can quickly test things by involving companies.

"It's only one out of 10 who end up with a professor title, so a startup can be another way to go if you really want to hold onto that research element and present your knowledge in a new way. They may be afraid it will affect their research career to spend time on a startup. But the two things can easily go hand in hand," says Mark Riis.

What kind of role will the researcher play?

Previously, it was mainly researchers who developed the wish to establish a company a little later in their careers. But with younger researchers, Rasmus Stig Beck Jensen, who has a background as an entrepreneur himself, experiences a different approach to entrepreneurship:

"From the beginning, when I met a researcher with startup dreams, I assumed that they would be the CEO and leave the department, giving up their research career. I don't think that way at all anymore. Now, we think about building a team and defining the researcher's role in the team, which should also align with family life. And help the researcher find capital-strong co-founders, learn to leverage their network, and make contacts, for example, at the Digital Tech Summit."

"It requires flexible models for how a researcher can be an entrepreneur. One can go all in. Or one can continue their work on the side. It's about people seeing that they don't necessarily risk losing their job as a researcher but reduce the risk by doing things simultaneously – one thing does not necessarily exclude another," he says.

Dual career on the drawing board at Mi Jung Park

Returning to Mi Jung Park, she is currently collaborating with DTU Skylab to attract investors willing to contribute both capital and expertise to her startup. Her research and business concept revolve around the necessity of sharing privacy-sensitive data. Her research outcomes help enable data sharing within and between organizations without compromising privacy. 

A notable scenario arises in drug development, where conventional restrictions hinder the sharing of data across various departments or developmental phases. Enabling such data sharing between different stages of drug development could enhance the overall efficiency of the process. This approach allows for the comprehensive design of the entire process, considering all stages simultaneously, as opposed to progressing one stage at a time due to privacy concerns. Another illustration involves sharing data among hospitals to augment the dataset for training AI models. By participating in cross-border data exchange with other hospitals, a more extensive knowledge base can be established.

Mi Jung Park envisions taking on the role of a technical consultant within her startup and becoming part of the founding group. Reflecting on an experience at the Digital Tech Summit, she shares that an investor directly inquired about her intentions to leave her position at DTU. This took her by surprise, as leaving the university world hadn't crossed her mind. Expressing her love for research, she emphasizes her preference for staying connected to the academic sphere.

"I believe in a strong synergy between the startup and research. The real-world needs can drive my research forward. Similarly, the output can help in the real world. And things also move very quickly in data science. After two years, the technology may not be relevant anymore, so it's important to integrating ongoing research into daily operations to ensure the company remains relevant and evolves continuously," says Mi Jung Park.

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