The overhaul of the University of Washington’s tech transfer department continues under the leadership of vice provost Linden Rhoads, and the latest move is about branding. The department — which manages and licenses technology from the state’s largest public university — has changed its name to The University of Washington Center for Commercialization, or UWC4C. “A name can imply a lot about a mission,” Rhoads says. “We hope the transition to the UW Center for Commercialization conveys a proactive, full-service group of commercialization experts committed to long-term relationships with UW researchers.” As part of that effort, the UWC4C has launched an entrepreneur-in-residence program in which industry leaders such as Pathway Medical founder Tom Clement, WildTangent founder Alex St. John, and Seattle Genetics co-founder Perry Fell will peruse opportunities and work directly with university researchers on possible business ideas. The UWC4C also has partnered with the Technology Alliance to showcase technologies from UW to the VC and angel investment communities.
In addition to the TTO name change, UW’s LaunchPad Services is changing its name to UWC4C New Venture Group, with Clement and Rick LeFaivre, managing director of OVP Venture Partners in Kirkland, joining the team to bring a large additional dose of real world start-up experience to the office. Both will report to Rhoads. LeFaivre will split his time evenly between the university and OVP, while Clement is expected to work full-time at UW for about 18 months. Janis Machala, who has spearheaded the LaunchPad since Rhoads hired her in November 2008, is leaving UW at the beginning of February to return to consulting. Machala says she feels “great” about the progress made in stirring more commercial activity in 2009. “New VCs are also engaging from the Bay Area and other locales now that they are seeing commercial progress” coming from UW research, she says.
The hiring of two individuals with deep expertise in high tech, cleantech, and life sciences is a recognition that UW needs specialized talent on staff to help nurture more start-ups, Rhoads says. The UW conducted more than $1 billion worth of research in 2008 — funded mostly by the federal government, charitable foundations, and corporations — and ranks second in federal research funding nationally behind Johns Hopkins University. Yet before Rhoads and Machala came aboard, business leaders complained that UW was mediocre at best in transforming that research into start-ups or useful products. Recruiting experienced industry talent to mentor scientists and engineers about business operations is a key part of bridging that gap. “This takes a lot of expertise,” Rhoads says. “There’s a lot of domain expertise required in knowing the safety and efficacy requirements, regulatory issues, [and] product reimbursement.”