PhD thesis as a Startup
Dmitry Popov, PhD-4 in Engineering Systems | Founder, Startup IZI CAD
Meet Dmitry Popov, Skoltech PhD-4 student and startup founder. Scientific problem of his PhD thesis inspired him to create a startup in the field of 3D modeling and 3D printing using innovative AI technologies! Now Dmitry is calling for MSc and PhD students to join his project. Enjoy his story!
why I chose Skoltech
Alexander Pasko, my future supervisor, suggested me to join Skoltech, when I finished my master thesis. At the time of my graduation from Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (MEPhI), we had written several articles in co-authorship with him. It seems that I worked quite well, and Alexander called me into the newly created team of the Center for Materials Technologies.

The topic of my research at MEPhI was the use of computer graphics to solve data analysis problems. Capabilities of 3D modeling inspired me and I wanted to continue growing in this direction.

The offer of professor Pasko seemed very attractive to me. Working at the center gave me the opportunity not only to go deeper in 3D modeling, but also to bring the designed shapes into the real world with 3D printing.

Engineering Systems PhD Propgram
why I decided to create startup
I was very often alone with my thoughts during the coronavirus pandemic. My colleagues and I used to convince each other that our research was important and useful. However, I suddenly doubted it, when I was alone with myself.

Function representation was not widespread in commercial solutions, and I wanted to understand why. There is exactly one company in the world that has developed a significant computer-aided design tool based on function representation. I figured that if the path in this direction is free, it leads to either an epic failure or a great opening. The fact that our competitor has been in the U.S. market for 5 years makes me confident that the second option is more likely.

After all, this is Skoltech! Every self-respecting student of Skoltech should take part in the creation of a startup.
Starttup Village 2022
how I started and what challenges I faced
Late one night in November 2020, I opened my laptop and started writing a browser-based modeling tool based. After a few sleepless nights, I finally said to myself, "It works". Now I wanted to share it with someone to make sure that I had actually done something meaningful and not started to lose my mind because of self-isolation.

After a video call with my friend from MEPhI, the fledgling startup obtained one more developer. The rapid prototyping of the system began, with its small victories and intense arguments. My colleague Evgenii Maltsev joined us soon. After a couple of months, the system's development progress became a regular topic of weekly meetings with our research supervisor Alexander Pasko and regular meetings with the director of our center Iskander Akhatov.

Unfortunately, after a while my comrade stepped back from our project. He was afraid that it would become just another scientific study, the results of which would not reach the end user. Thus, the problem of finding team members opened up, which largely has not been solved to this day.
Skoltech role in my startup journey
Skoltech helps our project in two aspects: technological and business. In terms of system development, we have access to the equipment of the Additive Manufacturing Laboratory and Mechanical Testing Laboratory, where we can print and perform mechanical tests.

The Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation actively helps us find investors and potential customers. We participate in pitch sessions and acceleration programs, which the center's employees find for us.

In addition, Skoltech gives us the opportunity to involve new students in our project. Now we have two master students in our team. One of whom is designing implants and the other is working on a topological optimization algorithm.

We would happy to have new students join us! We need persons with following skills:
✦ Programming
✦ 3D modeling
✦ Knowledge of Machine Learning methods
✦ Artificial Intelligence
✦ 3D printing
✦ Experience Working on CNC machines

If you are interested in this research field and have a passion to startup environment, contact me at Dmitry.Popov@skoltech.ru to discuss opportunities for participation.

my typical day & responsibilities in project
Despite my love of planning and order, each my day is different. Because of the small size of the project team, I have to do everything at once. There are days when we spend the whole time talking to our partners and updating business plans and roadmaps. Sometimes it is possible to "relax", sit back and work on a system prototype at our pleasure.

However, I do not forget that I am a graduate student at Skoltech first. Especially now, before the final review of my theses, I spend a lot of time on scientific activities. In the last few days, I have been processing the data of mechanical tests of the designed samples, editing the article for its resubmission and completing the text of the thesis.
how to combine startup and study
The startup is mostly an application of the theories I use in my PhD thesis. Thus, the research I conducted at Skoltech could sooner or later be incorporated into the developed system.

Fortunately, I was already third year PhD student, when I seriously thought about the startup. By this time, I already achieved almost all academic goals necessary to complete my studies. I think that if I had tried to combine my studies and the development of our project during my freshman year, both would have suffered.

my advice to Skoltech students who want to develop their project
For students who want to develop their own project, I advise not to be afraid to try and do it, and I suggest them to learn how to prioritize.

If you don't try to create your own project, based on a certainly brilliant idea, in a couple of years you will be very saddened by the news that there is a new successful product on the market that works exactly in the way you once intended. And, most likely, it may even be less cool than you imagined.

But on the other hand, you have to be able to pause and reflect. In the pursuit of success, it's easy to miss opportunities or, worse, to miss a growing problem that could instantly ruin your habitual life.
and now about Skoltech
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