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Even technology transfer itself can use a better mousetrap now and then, and commercialization staffers at four universities came together last month to produce what they’re calling the first-ever live online Technology Showcase, perhaps opening up a new avenue for TTOs seeking a more direct approach to marketing their innovations.
Featuring short pitches from seven research teams, the event offered immediacy, direct contact between inventors and potential technology licensors and — most importantly, according to the organizers — an opportunity to put the innovator in the spotlight right at the start, and not later, when the commercialization process has already begun.
“This format allows us to reach people around the country,” notes Quentin Thomas, marketing manager in the Office of Technology Transfer at Atlanta’s Emory University, one of the event’s sponsors. “Also, because of the way it is organized, each university has the opportunity to meet companies with whom we may have never been in contact. Plus, we are putting the inventors up front. They are often brought into the discussion later, but this allowed the companies to hear about the research directly from the researcher at the beginning of a new and hopefully beneficial relationship.”
The other institutions participating in the online showcase were the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Washington State University, although Thomas stresses that “the universities themselves were not presented, but the technologies.” Inventors at each institution were given seven minutes to present their innovations live, followed by three minutes of questions and answers with the company representatives in attendance.
Narrowing the focus
The showcase was intended for companies interested in therapeutics for humans, including recruited attendees from investment, pharmaceutical, and consulting firms. The idea of online showcases, however, could work across many industry sectors.
“We came up with the topic during one of our early planning calls,” Thomas explains. “We all knew that our universities have a wide variety of technologies and innovations being researched and created around campus. If we decided that each university could have two inventors from any area of research, it would create more work marketing because we’d likely have to market to a broader audience or create targeted marketing campaigns for each research area represented.”
Instead, the planning group — which included Thomas; MCW’s Edward Diehl, marketing manager in the Office of Technology Development, who’s considered the originator of the idea; Norman Ong, PhD, licensing associate at WSU; and Dirk Benedict, marketing coordinator at the LSU AgCenter — opted to narrow its focus to human therapeutics. “There wasn’t any debate,” Thomas recalls. “One person suggested that and we all agreed.”
Interestingly, the group hadn’t worked together before. “Eddie [Diehl] reached out to people last year, I believe during the AUTM annual meeting, asking whether they would be interested in something like this,” Thomas recalls. “I was not a part of that. He reached out to me later in the year. As we started preparing, the list of people he reached out to came down to the four of us.”
Finding the right audience
Once a topic was determined, the event had to be marketed. “When we learned that the hosting service we were using had a limitation on the number of attendees, we decided to each contact companies or individuals we’ve been in touch with, e-mailing personal invites to those we thought would be interested, as opposed to a broad, national marketing campaign,” Thomas reports. “Eddie created an e-mail template which we could personalize, and we all shared the list of companies we planned to contact, so as to not overlap.”
He adds: “We all agreed that 10 people with significant interest in what is being presented is better than 30 people who would find nothing of interest. This first Technology Showcase had 13 companies attend — with some companies having multiple attendees, so we don’t know the exact number of individuals.” Last-minute technical problems with the hosting program kept some would-be attendees away this time, too, he says.
Each participating university “set up in a conference room and had inventors present in front of a camera,” Thomas explains. “Eddie also worked with his IT team to record the live webinar, so we can use it for marketing purposes later, whether marketing the technologies or the Technology Showcase itself.”
There were slight variations in how the content was focused among the presentations, he adds, but the emphasis in each was on the technology’s commercial application. “The inventors presented their research, the stage of development, and the market in which they saw the discovery being applicable,” he comments.
Feedback has been good. Thomas says the only negative comments concerned the technical glitches. His advice to colleagues? “A couple of people did request slides, so it is a good idea to make sure the inventor doesn’t mind sharing the slides he or she puts together,” Thomas suggests. “Also, something to be aware of is time zone. You don’t want to send someone an invite for a webinar that would start at 10 p.m. in his or her time zone, unless you know that person works late at night.”
He also recommends doing a “dry run” in whatever hosting service is being used. “That’s very important,” he emphasizes. “There were several things we learned in our first and second run-throughs. Unfortunately, we were also learning 15 minutes before the showcase started” because of the technical problems the hosting program encountered.
“Sometimes,” he adds, “despite all of your planning, there will be things you are not prepared for. You just have to be ready to adapt.” He stresses, though, that “we all agreed we’d love to do more. In fact, we hope that this picks up and other university tech transfer offices start doing this as well.”
Contact Thomas at 404-727-1899 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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