Greg Mulholland didn’t take the typical route to getting his MBA. He had no background in banking or consulting and hadn’t even taken a business course as an undergraduate. After earning an Engineering degree from NC State and then a Masters Degree in Physics from Cambridge, he went to work as a materials scientist.

Yet after working at a small semiconductor company in North Carolina for a few years, he began to notice a strange disconnect. While it was crucial for companies to identify new materials that could lead to better products, very few executives were able to effectively interface with scientists like him. He saw an opportunity to become that nexus.

As it turned out, during “Admit Weekend” for the Stanford MBA program, he found a kindred spirit in Bryce Meredig, a newly minted PhD in Materials Science. Like Greg, Bryce thought that, with materials science heating up, there were enormous opportunities to be unlocked. Today, their company, Citrine Informatics, hopes to revolutionize how we develop new products.

From Sabermetrics to Materials Science

In the fall after they met at “Admit Weekend,” Greg and Bryce began the MBA program and built a close relationship. Attending many of the same classes, they also continued to pursue their shared interest in materials science. One day, they came across an academic paper that contained a database of thermoelectric materials.

Bryce, who had long been interested in Sabermetrics — developing advanced baseball statistics — had written his PhD. dissertation on how similar data driven methods could be used to identify new materials. The two thought they could take the idea further by applying more advanced machine learning techniques to the database in the paper.

So they got to work and, using the data from the paper, were able to predict 100 new materials. When they checked back with the scientists who done the research, they found that although a few were already known, most of the compounds they had predicted had never been discovered before. Upon further testing, it turned out that the new materials performed exactly as predicted!

This was, essentially, their minimum viable product. Greg and Bryce hadn’t actually identified anything that was commercially viable, but their hypothesis had been confirmed. They had, in fact, identified a better way to discover new materials that could lead to exciting new products.

Yet a question still remained. Would businesses be interested?

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