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How to find and nurture the best staff for your TTO

By David Schwartz
Published: January 9th, 2013

Every TTO needs to take on new professionals once in a while, but given that there is no specific degree program for technology transfer, where do you find the best candidates? Certainly, the field is relatively new, and the culture and priorities of TTOs can vary quite a bit. But veteran tech transfer managers still know what to look for in potential talent, and they are also keen to the tip-offs that an otherwise impressive candidate may not be cut out for a long and successful run in this challenging field.

For example, while an advanced degree in science or technology is considered a baseline requirement for many TTO directors, Dean Stell, associate director in the Office of Technology Asset Management at Wake Forest University, says one of the key things he always looks for in candidates is objectivity regarding commercial — versus scientific — potential. “It is important to look for people who can make a differentiation between scientific excellence and market opportunity because they are not always the same thing.”

How can you pick up on whether candidates have this commercial awareness? One clue is what they talk about during the interview process, says Stell. “You are looking for people who maybe talk less about where they published and more about the interesting translational data from their research project,” he says. “Are they talking about how that technology moved forward and was made more attractive, and have they kept tabs on it since they left the university?”

Another quality that TTO professionals must possess if they are going to have lasting power is humility, Stell argues. “You have to realize that you are at a university and you are not going to be the rock star. The faculty members are the rock stars, and that is just how it is going to be,” he says. “I have noticed colleagues who have wanted to have a little bit more of the spotlight on them when a deal is done. They become frustrated when the faculty member is lauded more than was appropriate. But this is what this business is. We are kind of like CIA agents. You only hear about them when they screw up.”

Charles Goodspeed, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Technology Transfer Center, an organization that provides support and training to municipalities across the state, always looks for candidates who are intuitive and curious. “It is one thing to be a good a listener; it is another to be able to decipher the fundamental issues behind what one hears,” he explains. “I look for folks who are inquisitive when issues are presented, and who will research a topic to fully understand all the needs expressed.” A detailed article on hiring top-notch TTO staff appears in the December 2012 issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, plus our six-year archive of best practices and TTO success strategies, CLICK HERE.

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