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UT-Austin’s start-up ‘studios’ make valuable connections for faculty innovators

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: July 12th, 2017

The University of Texas at Austin’s Innovation Center — housed at the Cockrell School of Engineering — is hosting monthly get-togethers where faculty inventors present their discoveries, inventions and start-ups to small, informal groups of local industry experts and entrepreneurs. The gatherings are called UTAustinstARTup Studios, and the clever use of capitalization is intentional, according to Louise Epstein, the center’s managing director. “It’s called a studio because start-ups are an art and a science,” she says, “and art is crafted in a studio.”

Attendance at the studio is by invitation only. “The ideal professor candidate for participation has a start-up or a proto-startup,” Epstein explains. “Normally, they have the IP and they are either thinking of starting a company or have started a company.” Even though the engineering school hosts the Innovation Center, “we work with professors across campus,” she adds.

Sometimes the Center contacts the professors, sometimes it works the other way. And the experts invited to hear the faculty presentation are carefully chosen as well. “Every guest at the studio is handpicked,” Epstein explains, by her and by Robert Metcalfe, PhD, who’s officially a professor of innovation and the center’s faculty director, but who’s better known as the inventor of the Ethernet.

“It’s our intention that attendees be resources for our professors,” she says. “We may have a professor presenting on medical devices, so we invite people from the medical device and health industries and Food and Drug Administration experts.” The entrepreneurs she and Metcalfe invite are often looking for their next opportunity, she adds. “They know our start-ups are usually looking for CEOs and business people.”

The center hosts nine Studio sessions each school year, September through May, and each features presentations from three faculty members. Each presentation features 15 minutes from the professor and 15 minutes of Q&A. “We fondly call the Studios ‘Shark Tank,’ but they’re not sharky at all. They’re a wonderful opportunity to be helpful to — and an evangelist for — the start-ups,” Epstein says.

A detailed article on the UT-Austin program appears in the June issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s 10-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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