Hitotsubashi University MBA students participate in shaping the future of "science and business" at OIST

Five business students experience operation of OIST’s startups as interns

Innovation sign

Favorable research results alone are not enough for innovative technology to move from the lab to market. Business expertise and strategic support are necessary to accelerate the commercialization of scientific discoveries. To bridge the gap between science and business, Hitotsubashi University School of International Corporate Strategy, the #1 MBA program in Japan 1, and OIST created the OIST-Hitotsubashi Internship Program to connect entrepreneurial researchers with experienced business students.

Five 1st and 2nd year MBA students were selected for the inaugural cohort of interns: Vyom Rastogi (’22), Punyavadee Yiensubahanond (’22), Jin Hoachi (’23), Sarah Mak (’23) and Ke Zhang (’23). The students were matched with a startup founder or entrepreneurial researcher at OIST and spent 2 weeks to 2 months at the university’s state-of-the-art campus in Onna Village, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the research teams to conduct market analysis, business model development, fundraising strategies, and other business activities, with the aim of bringing their technologies to market.

Hitotsubashi Interns
From left, Vyom Rastogi (intern), Punyavadee Yiengsubhanond (intern), Gill Granot-Mayer(OIST Chief Vice President for Technology Development and Innovation), and Ke Zhang (intern)

Vyom Rastogi, from India, was matched with Watasumi, an OIST spin-off company established in 2021 that is developing novel microbes to treat industrial wastewater while also generating energy. Vyom worked closely with the startup’s CEO David Simpson, who developed the technology while working in a research lab at OIST. During the internship, Vyom worked on the startup’s strategic activities, including researching potential markets in Japan and other Asian countries and networking with customers in Okinawa.

“It was a good experience to apply the knowledge I learned in Hitotsubashi to a real-life scenario with Watasumi, says Vyom. “The life of an entrepreneur seems so rosy from the outside but what we fail to see is the hard work they do, day in and day out. Getting your hands dirty is not just a tag line for them, but a way of life. And I think this is what makes them so good at everything."

Watasumi’s founder, David, also benefited from working with Vyom. He said “Although it was for a brief time, we could tap into all his knowledge from his working experience with Toyota. Since Watasumi is developing a hardware technology, we quickly realized how we could improve our manufacturing approaches if we applied some of his ideas. This internship is a chance to support cutting-edge innovations, and experience Okinawa in a way not usually possible.”

"I want to make this world a better place for future generations”, Vyom concluded. “To achieve that, I would either start a venture of my own in the sustainability domain or join someone as passionate as David who is so focused to achieve the best for the common good."

David and Vyom

Ke Zhang, or “Kitty”, as she is known to friends, was matched with EF Polymer, an OIST startup developing naturally derived, super-absorbent polymers to help farmers conserve water in drought-prone areas. During her two-month internship, Kitty, who is from China, worked on a circular economy business model and helped with market research and strategy for Chinese and U.S. markets.

“What impressed me most is that this internship has given me an idea of sustainability in entrepreneurship,” Kitty said. The experience also provided her with useful information in deciding the direction of her future career path. “Before I started the internship at OIST, I didn’t know how entrepreneurs view sustainability and how it’s different from what mature companies did. Now I have an impression that they are devoted to sustainability in their own way, more from environmental and social sides than from a governance side.”

In addition to practical experience working alongside entrepreneurs, the interns also had access to a range of seminars and courses at OIST on topics such as intellectual property. Reflecting on her experience at OIST, Kitty said, "I consider the internship a practice of utilizing my learning from classes in Marketing, Corporate Finance, Strategy, and others, as well as identifying the types of research that interest me."

“OIST has a very successful internship program for science students interested in hands-on lab research, but this was the first time for the university to host business students as interns,” said Lauren Ha, Associate Vice President of the OIST Technology Development & Innovation Center. “The positive impact and contributions that the students made to our startups and research teams convinced us to renew the program for another year. We are really looking forward to hosting the next group of business students from Hitotsubashi University.”

1 QS Global MBA Rankings 2022: https://info.ics.hub.hit-u.ac.jp/en/qsranking2023-no.1mbainjapan-0

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