Imagine if your kindly uncle were on “Shark Tank.”
That’s kind of what it’s like to attend Professor Sushil Bhatia’s Innovation Hours. Open to anyone in the Suffolk community, Innovation Hours give budding entrepreneurs the chance to bounce ideas off Bhatia, executive in residence at the Sawyer Business School. Bhatia knows something about launching successful ventures: he’s an award-winning innovator who’s developed several well-known products for businesses and consumers.
Bhatia started the Innovation Hours as a way to give students, faculty, alumni, and staff the chance to try out their ideas and get guidance from a seasoned pro. And unlike the rapacious hosts on “Shark Tank,” Bhatia is supportive at every turn. Even if an idea doesn’t seem so promising—something he can quickly see—he doesn’t discourage its owner. Indeed, he helps everyone figure out what steps will lead to success. Whether it’s explaining patents and copyrights, understanding the launch process, or finding an investor, Bhatia gladly shares his years of experience.
“The idea for Innovation Hours is to get a little bit of a reality check on your idea,” Bhatia says. “See where the competition might be. How you need to differentiate your product. Figure out if you want to license it. With all of that, I’ll help you.”
All the way to QVC
Surprisingly, the key to launching the Next Big Thing isn’t really the idea itself. According to Bhatia, success is less about the widget than about having the patience and persistence to keep advancing the idea of the widget.
“The biggest problem with innovation and new product development is people don’t spend enough time overcoming obstacles, which there always will be,” Bhatia said.
Angela Cakridas, BSBA ’14, is one Suffolk success story. She brought an idea for a 5-in-1 makeup brush to Bhatia about four years ago. Bhatia helped her develop it and, after winning the Suffolk Pitch Competition and with some additional help from Lori Greiner on “Shark Tank,” Cakridas got her brushes on QVC. And they sold.
“He would give me the basic guidelines of what I needed to do and left it up to me to do the research and the work and figure it out,” Cakridas said. “He wasn’t holding my hand.”
One request Bhatia makes of all his charges is that they email him every Friday with an update about their venture: What was the trouble? What was the feedback? What did they do? Even if they accomplished nothing, he wanted them to report in. It’s a way of keeping focused. Four years later, Cakridas still emails Bhatia with progress on her new ideas.
“It holds me accountable for getting things done,” she says. “I think when you have an idea you’ve got to go at it full force just to be competitive.” Cakridas has missed emailing Bhatia only twice in over four years. Currently, she’s working on her next (secret) venture—with Bhatia’s guidance, of course.
Just starting out
On the other end of the Innovation Hours spectrum is Jael Wembalonge, BSBA ’19. The business major from Congo got an idea for an app earlier this fall. She tried and tried on her own to figure out how to get it going. Then she heard about Bhatia and emailed him. And emailed him again. Then dropped by his office. And dropped by again. And finally met with him at one of the Innovation Hours.
“He was really, really nice to me,” said Wembalonge. “It was the first time I met with someone where I thought, ‘OK, my idea is becoming something.’”
One important way Bhatia is helping Wembalonge is to show her how to navigate the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website. “Before working with Professor Bhatia, when I contacted the website, I actually paid them to do the searches,” she said. “But he told me I don’t have to do that. I can do it myself.”
Indeed, giving people the confidence and know-how to launch their ideas on their own is exactly the goal of Innovation Hours.
“Ideas are easy to come by. It’s the execution that’s the big deal,” said Bhatia.
Professor Bhatia’s Innovation Hours are open to all Suffolk students, alumni, and faculty. 12:15 p.m.—1:15 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and 5-6 p.m. Thursdays. Email to set up an appointment: email@example.com