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New online platforms connecting university start-ups and executive talent


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 25th, 2018

While universities are bursting at the seams with technologies that can provide the kindling for all kinds of ground-breaking companies, there is a supply-and-demand problem when it comes to finding experienced entrepreneurs that have the knowledge and the capital-raising networks to accelerate their growth. In fact, this problem is particularly acute for the dozens and dozens of research universities that reside in smaller cities or towns where access to such talent is limited.

But what if there was a matching service designed to bring entrepreneurs with specific industry expertise together with start-up opportunities in their particular realm? That’s the idea behind Executives on Roster (XOR), a new software platform that is taking shape for two groups of participating universities that have decided to pool their executive-talent networks with the assumption that start-ups will have a much better chance of finding experienced CEOs that are a good fit for their technologies.

The idea for XOR started with Ian McClure, director of the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) at the University of Kentucky (UK) in Lexington, and it was in response to an inventory he and his staff conducted shortly after he joined the OTC in October of 2016. They wanted to assess the status of all of the university’s start-up companies.

“We counted up a list and communicated with about 66 start-ups that were out there in the world doing what they were doing in various stages of development, and what we realized is that the majority of them were still being run by faculty managers,” explains McClure. “Then we also took an inventory of the failure of all of our start-ups over the previous five to ten years, and realized that almost all of these companies met their demise because … there was a lack of attention or focus that could be paid to these start-ups, and they were just more or less faculty projects.”

McClure concluded that the OTC had an inadequate pipeline to the kind of talent and teambuilding expertise needed to successfully accelerate the growth of its technology-based spinoffs. “We realized that the research scope of the university is much broader than our immediate talent pool in and around Lexington and the UK community,” he says.

For example, while there is ample expertise in the equine, bourbon and aerospace industries, talent is lacking with respect to pharmaceuticals and life sciences in the state. This is a problem when you consider that 60% of OTC’s portfolio is incubated out of UK’s College of Pharmacy and College of Medicine, observes McClure.

Such a dilemma, of course, is not unique to UK, so in July of 2017, McClure took the matter up with the TTO directors from the other Southeastern Conference (SEC) universities at their annual meeting.

“All of us except for Vanderbilt are in what would be considered a college town or a university city, and don’t have immediate access to a giant, municipal-based talent pool,” says McClure. Consequently, McClure proposed building a software-based recruiting marketplace to attract interested individuals who are looking for their next opportunity. “We could allow people to build a profile based on their background, and then they could search proactively using key words or other semantic search information for start-ups that we put [on the platform] that are in need of executive management,” he says.

The idea was met with high interest from the other TTO directors, so McClure took the lead on championing the project, and together the group selected Chicago, IL-based Wellspring to be the software development partner. Over about a six-month period, the group worked with Wellspring to design the specifications for the software platform. They also built an XOR guidebook that clarifies the rules of engagement pertaining to how both entrepreneurs and start-ups gain access to the system.

A detailed article on the XOR platform appears in the October issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and get the full article, along with the publication’s 11-year archive of best practices and success strategies for TTOs, CLICK HERE.

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