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Indiana U refocuses tech transfer on industry engagement, splits off start-ups

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 4th, 2017

Indiana University is restructuring its tech transfer operations, moving most of its traditional industry-facing work out of the non-profit Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. and back under direct university control, while splitting off start-ups as the sole purview of IURTC.

One major reason for the move was to consolidate the various teams engaging with industry into one office at IU, allowing them to speak with one voice and interact with industry partners more holistically. It also lessens the likelihood of problems when start-ups IU owns an interest in mix it up with technologies patented by IU faculty.

 “Our industrial partners were a factor,” says Tony Armstrong, IURTC’s CEO and president as well as associate vice president in the Office of the Vice President for Engagement. “A big part of the idea behind the restructuring was being a better partner with corporations. We’re really trying to do a better job of getting connected at a higher level, a more strategic level with our corporate partners — and we’re building that into the restructuring as well.”

In fact, he and a small group of colleagues are putting together a corporate relations council – an informal group for now — to keep the lines of communication open between corporate partners and the leaders from the formerly separate offices that managed each piece of the Hoosiers’ commercialization pie.

The idea is to bring together those representing all the different departments that are consolidating under the restructuring, to craft “strategic ways to engage with companies in the state, the nation and the world,” Armstrong says, “to figure out what their needs are and to help the university partner with them on research.”

IURTC, not formally part of the council, can now devote all its attention to start-ups. “Part of what’s happening is IURTC was very successful at technology transfer, but it takes a lot of time and energy,” says Fred H. Cate, IU’s Vice President for Research.  If IURTC handles tech transfer, too, he explains, it has less bandwidth for entrepreneurial activity surrounding start-ups.

“Taking tech transfer away leaves a laser-like focus on the entrepreneurial side of things,” he adds. And a focus that sharp on start-ups is “well done in a separate legal entity,” helping to avoid conflict of interest issues if a faculty inventor patents a technology and a start-up licenses it to a company the school has an investment in. “If one entity is doing all of that, you’re a little bit on both sides of the deal,” he explains. “Keeping entrepreneurs outside the university makes it clearer that the university and researcher stand side by side. An external entity can now be dealt with more transparently.”

A detailed article on the IU restructuring appears in the September issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, along with hundreds of case studies and success strategies in the publication’s online archive, CLICK HERE.

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