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Tracking tech transfer progress at the U of Washington

By Jason Norris
Published: February 18th, 2009

Thanks to the tireless bloggers at, we’ve been treated to a blow-by-blow account of the University of Washington’s attempt to retool the campus culture and rehab its reputation with industry under serial entrepreneur Linden Rhoads. She arrived at the school with much fanfare six months ago after years of what some have termed haughty protectionism. The latest update sports some glowing reviews of her early performance from university leaders, local VCs, and faculty. Ed Lazowska, the Bill & Melinda Gates chair of computer science and engineering at UW, had this to say: “There’s been a dramatic change since Linden’s arrival. The tech transfer officers are crawling all over our building working with students and faculty. An Entrepreneur-in-Residence program has been started…. It’s like night and day.”

In an Xconomy interview, Rhoads offered some interesting comments on a range of tech transfer issues, including the philosophy underlying her efforts to transform the research enterprise at the school. “What we really need to be doing is asking ourselves every day, ‘Are we doing everything possible to support our researchers?’ That’s different than being distracted by the idea of impact, in terms of what we’re doing for the local economy, being distracted by the idea of making money. I really believe if we do everything we can to be the best place for researchers and we help them as much as we can, all those other things will come and more. I just think it’s not useful to be overly conscious of those other goals as you actually carry out the work,” she said. “Too often, everyone runs around to think their job is to do industry relations, or their job is to be constantly thinking about revenue, or showing [legislators] what we can do for the state. The bottom line is we can’t commercialize things unless they’re here. They’re here by virtue of the fact that researchers doing promising work have chosen to be here. What we need to do are things that make them want to be here, and want to stay here.” A big part of Rhoads’ strategy is to engage with researchers much earlier than is typical of many TTOs, who begin working with faculty in earnest only after receiving an invention disclosure. She’s working to gain insight into ideas that are barely germinating in her top researcher’s labs — looking out three to five years — and then putting those researchers together with industry partners and VCs at the very earliest stage of product conception and development — so industry input is incorporated into research planning. “We want to look to someone in industry who can tell us if [an product characteristic is] really important, or whether it’s more important than being 9 percent cheaper to manufacture, or having really good stability in the environment for six-plus years. So let’s find out from industry what aspects are the most important things to them. Then we’ll let the researcher proceed with that information,” Rhoads commented. “Years from now, we want that pipeline to be full of more commercially relevant innovation.”

Go to: Xconomy

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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