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Changing the mindset: Boosting faculty engagement still a challenge for TTOs


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

Quick: Name a major department at a university that has been in place for years, and yet many faculty members are not aware that it exists and/or have little idea what it does. If you said “tech transfer office” you’d be dead on, at least in the minds of several experts who participated in a panel at the AUTM 2017 annual meeting.

One of the most common barriers to that goal, said Benjamin Dibling, PhD, executive director of licensing at the Penn Center for Innovation, is awareness, “particularly at larger institutions.” He still meets people, he added, who are unaware of what his office does. Other barriers, he continued, are ease (or lack thereof) of working with the TTO, and the time commitment associated with commercialization for busy faculty.

“We try to make things easier and add education to [the process],” noted Satish Rao, associate director of physical sciences at Columbia Technology Ventures. In order to “make things easier,” more than one panelist indicated, their TTOs had introduced online disclosure forms.

And Brian Shedd, PhD, assistant director in the Office of Innovation & Technology Commercialization at LSU, chose to view lack of awareness in relative terms. “A faculty member not knowing about us is better than them having a horrible experience — and I’ve had that too,” he noted.

The commercialization journey — not to mention the awareness journey — with faculty “can be a hard sell,” Shedd conceded. To make things smoother, he said, “I am very transparent; I like to go meet faculty face to face. I call department chairs to talk to their faculty, and I talk to the labs. A lot of it is going out and meeting people.”

The next step, he continued, “is to deliver some value.” He has to put his salesman’s hat on, he explained, and be very up front about the expectations and requirements of the commercialization effort. “I tell them I do not run a day care; they cannot just drop off a disclosure and then pick up a check,” said Shedd. “This is a journey we take together; I set expectations up front and tell them this is not for everybody, but if they are interested in commercialization I can help. That’s where we start, because often they’ve not really been exposed to tech transfer.”

He makes a special effort with the engineering department, which generates half the university’s disclosures. To enhance accessibility and to demonstrate the TTO’s commitment, he has an office in the engineering building and is there two days a week. “The faculty love it; they can find me,” said Shedd. “It’s a great branding effort.”

Shedd emphasized how important it is to make the process smoother for faculty members. “When I got to LSU the disclosure process was crazy,” he recalled. “They prepared the disclosure document, which required a wet signature and needed witnesses; can we make it any more difficult?”

Since disclosure is “the first contact” and such a critical initial step, he continued, there has to be a lower bar. So, he created an online, interactive form, which offers additional questions based on initial responses. “It takes minutes, and you just click ‘Submit’ at the bottom,” said Shedd. “There’s also a little drop box plug-in if you want to submit papers.”

The system also features an automated follow-up process that includes assignments and uses smart PDFs. The inventor, for example, receives notification from the case manager and gets their disclosure back. The database also encourages case managers to follow up regularly.

“The barrier to engagement is over,” Shedd said, an assertion confirmed by polling his office conducted showing that faculty who use the new process like it. And why not? “A couple of clicks and you’re done,” he noted. A detailed article on invention disclosure strategies appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, as well as full access to the publication’s 10-year archive of success strategies and best practices for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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Harvard start-up that manufactures platelets receives $10M in Series A


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

A Harvard University spinout has raised $10 million in Series A financing to develop and commercialize a method to manufacture platelets that would decrease reliance on human blood donors. continue reading »

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U of Maryland licenses novel vaccine to fight staph infections


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

The University of Maryland (UM) at Baltimore has signed an exclusive license agreement with Maryland-based start-up Serenta Biotechnology to advance a new vaccine technology against staph infections. continue reading »

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U of Minnesota innovation program sees its first successful tech commercialization


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

The Innovation Fellows Program, an immersive tech transfer initiative at the University of Minnesota Medical Devices Center (MDC), has seen its first successful transition from the lab to the marketplace. continue reading »

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Joint venture start-up by Emory and U of Queensland raises $16M to treat hot flashes in breast cancer patients


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

A start-up launched jointly by Emory University and the University of Queensland (UQ) has raised $16 million in Series A financing to commercialize its novel non-hormonal treatment for hot flashes in women undergoing endocrine therapy for breast cancer. continue reading »

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Invention Evaluator gets technology assessments done quickly and inexpensively


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

Technology Transfer Tactics and its parent company 2Market Information Inc. are now offering inexpensive access to Invention Evaluator, a unique service that provides invention assessments quickly, conveniently, and cost-effectively.

Upon submission by TTOs and other IP owners, the service uses professional IP analysts to provide comprehensive 40- to 50-page invention analysis reports in just 10 business days or less. For research institutions and other non-profits, a complete 40-50 page assessment researched and crafted by experienced professional staff costs just $595 ($995 for industry and other for-profit users).

For details and to see a complete sample report, CLICK HERE >>

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University of Bonn start-up advances a robot that uses lasers to combat weeds


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany are developing a robot that automatically identifies weeds in a field and takes them out them with a short laser pulse. continue reading »

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First start-up from U Michigan Law School raises $1.8M to commercialize app that helps citizens “go” to court remotely


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

The first start-up to launch out of the University of Michigan’s Law School has raised over $1.8 million to advance its efforts to expand access to the courts for people who have prior obligations such as work or family care, or who feel threatened because of their racial or ethnic background. continue reading »

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Comings and goings


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 14th, 2017

The Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) has chosen investor and seasoned business executive George Davis to serve as its new CEO after a lengthy search. TEDCO is recognized as one of the most active early-stage investors in the country, with a portfolio of more than 400 seed investments. It has awarded $22 million to start-ups, leading to more than $1 billion in follow-on funding and the creation of 4,358 jobs at an average salary of $74,700.

Davis previously served as a partner at Baltimore-based early-stage investment group GM3/Gamma 3 LLC. He also has tech business experience as CEO of the Johns Hopkins spinout Gemstone Biotherapeutics, director of bio-informatics company Perthera Inc., CEO of software and engineering support company Avatech Solutions/Rand Worldwide Inc., and other executive roles in tech companies.

“After a thorough search, the Board of Directors is excited to have George Davis take the helm of TEDCO as our new CEO,” says chairman Newt Fowler. “George brings to TEDCO a wealth of demonstrated leadership skills, diverse C-Level experience acumen, and a history of successful investment and operational engagements within the Maryland Innovation Ecosystem.

Davis comments, “Building strong relationships with all of the innovation ecosystem constituencies, such as the Maryland Department of Commerce, and leveraging the unprecedented footprint and pedigree of the state’s academic research facilities, locally based tech and life science industries, strong industry associations, robust business incubators, vast mentoring resources and venture capital assets is paramount to our success.”

Source: TEDCO

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Lean Startup principles offer valuable insights for tech commercialization


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 7th, 2017

While Lean Startup methodology, first put forward in 2008 by Eric Reis and widely disseminated by serial entrepreneur Steve Blank, has been adopted by many in industry, it has not caught on quite as quickly in technology transfer circles. Although it has been implemented by a number of universities following Blank’s “Fireside Chat” at the AUTM 2015 Annual Meeting, experts are still pondering exactly how broadly applicable the methodology is to tech transfer. There is general consensus, however, that at least some of its principles can enhance commercialization efforts.

“Some of those [Lean Startup] concepts are very analogous to tech transfer, and if applied systematically can help improve the process as well,” asserted Becky Stoughton, MBA, CLP, Vice President of Fuentek, LLC, who chaired a panel on the topic at the 2017AUTM Annual Meeting in Hollywood, FL.

The “customer discovery” aspect of the lean model, which requires an in-depth series of interviews with prospects who would be customers of a business, has perhaps resonated most with TTOs. “Customer development is very important,” Stoughton emphasized. “Get out of the building and talk to potential customers. Is that even the right customer? Do they even care about the technology?”

A Lean Startup-based program at Auburn University, aptly called the “Customer Discovery” program, is supplemented in part by the university’s “Customer Discovery Fund.” It was initiated after Auburn was contacted by Georgia Tech about that university’s lean-inspired “Startup Gauntlet” and a mini-I-Corps program, said licensing officer Troy Brady, PhD. “We tried it out, and with help put on the program,” he said. “We hoped to get technology that moved forward, but it is also possible that cases end up not finding a market.” Even then, he added, the approach has benefits. “You do not need to spend as much time and resources [as with a start-up], but you have some validation to go back to discuss this with the inventor and make a decision mutually,” he explained.

The Auburn program devotes three weeks to training teams committed to specific projects. “We meet with them, discuss the process of going out and talking to folks the right way, and continue to give feedback as they build their canvas” and begin to develop a minimum viable product, Brady said.

Malcolm Townes, MBA, associate director of technology transfer and economic development with Missouri University of Science and Technology, also places strong emphasis on customer identification. ‘We focus on the very front end — customer discovery to achieve product market fit — and really apply it in a very narrow way,” he stated. “It’s better to understand what not to develop and help the faculty be guided.”

After working with the Lean methodology, Townes says he “eventually saw it was useful for more than just spinouts.” Other applications, he noted, included how to get more throughput, more licenses, and more royalties. “Better quality of a portfolio makes licensing easier, so increasing the quality of the IP portfolio became a possible goal of Lean,” he said. “Also, companies wanted you to be more down the pike — they wanted some risk issues to be addressed, to be less speculative. So, we could maybe address market risk.”

A detailed article on the application of Lean Startup principles to tech transfer activity appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, plus access to the entire 10-year archive of best practices and proven success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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U of South Florida Research Foundation files patent infringement lawsuit against Whirlpool Corp.


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 7th, 2017

The University of South Florida Research Foundation (USF-RF) is suing the major appliance company Whirlpool Corp. for infringing on a patent related to refrigerator door water dispensing technology. continue reading »

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Next Week: Stanford’s Katharine Ku to share best practices for managing research agreements with philanthropic organizations


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: June 7th, 2017

Our Distance Learning Division is pleased to welcome Katharine Ku of Stanford University as the program leader for Cultivating, Negotiating, and Managing Research Agreements with Philanthropic Organizations, scheduled for next Wednesday, June 14. Katharine has years of first-hand experience dealing with research agreements involving non-profits, and she is ready to present this practical session.

For complete details and to register, CLICK HERE.

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