Virtually every TTO is under constant pressure to find more partnerships and sign more deals that are far from easy to secure. But what if you expanded your territory — and your potential chances for success — by setting up shop on the other side of the globe? That’s the thinking behind a growing number of international initiatives TTOs are spearheading in the hopes that they can eventually leverage new ties overseas into benefits with lasting impact at home.
While many of these forays build on existing relationships a university may have with a like-minded institution in another country, there is no denying the layers of complexity involved when you seek to do business in another cultural, legal and business environment. However, the TTOs engaged in these activities believe their efforts are well worth the up-front investments in time and resources. In fact, some make the case that it is their duty to chase down such opportunities, given the clear trend toward globalization.
It is all about making connections, according to John Flavin, director of the Chicago Innovation Exchange (CIE), a start-up engine/incubator hub at the University of Chicago. “We are an enabler of connectivity of students, faculty and staff to the external ecosystem, whether that be locally or around the globe,” he explains. “In order to build a business in today’s marketplace, particularly a business that involves technology, you need to be aware of the global market from day one.”
Consequently, to build a global strategy for his efforts, Flavin has zeroed in on where the university already has a footprint in emerging markets. “The university has a center in Beijing and a presence in Hong Kong … so China was a first step in this direction, beginning with a partnership with Shandong University.”
The Qingdao, China-based school has similar interests, wanting to develop its entrepreneurship program and to build an innovation college, notes Flavin. “They wanted to learn about some of the activities that we had, and they also wanted an opportunity to expose some of their stakeholders, including investors, to opportunities in the United States emerging from places like Chicago,” he says. “We were interested in connecting our companies to investors and potential markets in China.”
While the relationship is new, it is has begun to pay dividends. Several CIE start-ups have already been to Quindío to compete for prize money as part of the Sino-U.S. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, jointly sponsored by Shandong University and the city of Qingdao, with two of the companies wining prize money.
“What it did was expose companies to the Qingdao opportunities,” explains Flavin. “There were partnership discussions that took place in addition to the opportunity for the teams to compete for investment dollars.”
China offers some singular advantages that seem tailor-made for early-stage innovations, according to Flavin. Specifically, Chinese investors seem more willing to take a shot on earlier stage technologies, especially with respect to companies that have an interest in the Chinese markets and “particularly in areas where the Chinese government has a strategic interest such as in the life sciences and biotechnology,” he explains. The Chinese government even provides financial support, in some cases, which serves to mitigate some of the risk of these early-stage investments, adds Flavin.
“When you look at the Chinese market from a pharmaceutical perspective, it is a growing market. The businesses that have historically been manufacturers in the Chinese marketplace are increasing in number, and there is greater attention and focus around early-stage, novel technologies where capital is needed and IP is usually at the heart of those technologies, whether they involve a new drug, a new device or a new diagnostic tool,” he explains. “The need for capital is intense for the development of these types of regulated products, and you are seeing an increased talent pool and an increased set of activities in China that make it an ideal place to develop some of these technologies.”
CIE’s foray into the Chinese market is just one of the university efforts at tapping international markets and partnerships featured in an in-depth report in the July issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s rich archive featuring hundreds of case studies and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.