Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Spend time on front end of strategic planning to avoid problems on back end


By David Schwartz
Published: June 13th, 2012

The TTO at Yale University in New Haven, CT, is considered a model of strategic planning. However, the hard work of mapping the TTO’s strategic goals begins and ends in the office of President Richard C. Levin, PhD, says Jon Soderstrom, PhD, managing director of Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research and a former AUTM president. The university’s senior management, including provost Peter Salovey, MA, PhD, to whom Soderstrom reports, regularly discusses the TTO’s critical activities and determines how they can support the mission of the university.

“We’ve taken a lot of time to understand the fundamental issues where we can contribute to the mission of the university,” Soderstrom explains. “And we’ve developed a strategic plan, which we update annually, that drives us toward supporting that mission and accomplishing those goals.”

In contrast to many universities, Yale’s tech transfer activities “have only a limited relevance to money,” Soderstrom says. Instead, his office has a strategic goal of providing service to Yale. Its mission statement reflects that primary role while recognizing secondary functions: “Yale Office of Cooperative Research’s Mission is to lead cooperative efforts to translate academic research into products and services for the benefit of global society, support the broader research and education missions of Yale, and where possible:

  • Enhance the reputation of the university.
  • Promote faculty recruitment and retention.
  • Catalyze local economic development.
  • Generate revenue for reinvestment in those missions.”

“At a number of universities, the licensing operation is expected almost to be a cash cow for the university,” Soderstrom says, noting that this goal falls to the bottom of his TTO’s mission statement. “At Yale, our president believes that, while the tech transfer office has a lot to do with money, we never do anything just for the money.” Levin is more concerned that the TTO launch new business ventures in the New Haven area to develop a diversified economy and recruit talented scientists to further its research efforts, Soderstrom explains.

“Our job is not about generating additional revenue for Yale,” Soderstrom points out. “We’ve got a $25 billion endowment. The best year I’ve ever had in tech transfer is dwarfed by what we can get as a return on our endowment. That’s the engine that drives revenue generation. Our job is to do other things — especially to start companies and create jobs.”

To measure its activities and ensure alignment with Yale’s mission, the TTO tracks internal measures such as disclosures and licenses as well as measures of “impact,” such as local job creation and investment in new ventures based on university-developed technology.

“Many are qualitative in nature, such as articles about Yale and its economic impact in the national news, but some are difficult to track, such as recruited faculty,” Soderstrom says. “We also strive to achieve a certain ‘wow’ factor — for example, the creation of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute to work with students interested in launching new ventures.”

To reinforce the importance of adhering to its mission, Yale’s TTO has an incentive compensation plan for all salaried staff that is based 50% on individual contribution to the strategic plan and 50% on the provost’s rating of the organization in meeting its strategic plan.

But Soderstrom doesn’t advocate that other TTOs imitate Yale’s model. “Each institution is different,” he points out. “The culture is different. The management is different. I have a significant advantage because I have a president at my university who understands tech transfer. We’re a private institution that’s managed like a corporation, so we don’t have the political pull that comes with being a state university. Nobody should look at us and say, ‘I want to be just like Yale.’”

Nevertheless, TTOs can adopt some of the operational tactics that Soderstrom uses, including annual reviews of the TTO’s strategic plan and regular feedback and buy-in from the university’s senior leadership. He meets monthly with Salovey, the medical school dean, and the officers of The Yale Corporation to ensure that the TTO’s activities are “aligned as closely as possible, up and down the chain of command.”

Editor’s note: Contact Soderstrom at 203-436-8096 or jon.soderstrom@yale.edu.

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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