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University College Cork rebrands TTO to embrace wider innovation activity


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: October 14th, 2020

A detailed article on UCC’s rebranding and restructuring of its TTO appears in the September issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the full article, click here.

Restructuring and rebranding is no small undertaking at any time — never mind during a global pandemic. But Rich Ferrie, director of innovation at University College Cork (UCC), didn’t let that stop him from changing direction and switching things up. In fact, he saw it as the ideal time to capitalize on a rebranding and re-imagining of the TTO there to embrace a wider innovation mandate.

The rebranded office, now called UCC Innovation, was launched in 2019, building on the Office of Technology Transfer which was established in 2007 and previously the Industrial Liaison Office, which operated for almost 25 years. “Rather than being called the Office of Technology Transfer, which implies a pretty narrow remit, our new branding recognizes the breadth of UCC’s cognate innovation activities we champion,” Ferrie says.

When he joined UCC a little over a year ago, Ferrie became aware that the office had been without a director for some time, which had produced a vacuum of thought leadership in knowledge transfer. He saw his role as plugging that gap, building cohesion within the team and championing the cause of knowledge transfer within the university. At the same time, he also assumed responsibility for a range of other activities at UCC, including its incubation activity, business accelerators, and consultancy services. He made the case to university administration that these should be formally aligned and re-branded as UCC Innovation, building on the common ground between the wider range of activities and recognizing the office’s critical position within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation. The proposed rebranding was warmly received — internally and externally.

To date, the rebrand is complete, a spin-out manager has been brought on board to energize entrepreneurship activity, and UCC’s business-facing consulting activity was launched and is beginning to take off, according to Ferrie. The rebranded office has also made a real effort to be more agile in deal-making with their commercial counterparts and is tops in Ireland in terms of licensing IP. Its recent review and revision of IP policy is adding to the momentum. “There’s a collective sense that we are going in the right direction,” Ferrie says.

Prior to his arrival, the IP policy had been in place at UCC since 2002 and was in need of updating in line with sector norms. The new policy provides greater incentives to academic entrepreneurs and recognizes students IP ownership rights. For faculty, the revenue share has been adjusted so that a greater proportion of income is allocated to inventors — it now stands at 50% of net income up to a threshold of €150K and 35% thereafter. That threshold was €15K prior to the policy update.

The retooled department has a flattened management structure, which Ferrie favors. He believes this structure empowers team members and leaders, shortens the chain of command and is more agile than multi-layered systems. He wanted to ensure that colleagues would feel able to make decisions in real-time within agreed parameters.

The flatter structure now delineates clear areas of responsibility and organizes the team into four key areas:

  1. UCC Technologies. UCC Technologies is the branding now used for the technology transfer office. This activity is concerned with identifying breakthrough technologies arising from UCC’s research, protecting the IP when commercially relevant, sourcing translation funding, and developing the IP to enable licensing or start-up formation.
  2. The GatewayUCC business incubator: This program supports researcher led start-ups and spin-out companies.
  3. IGNITE: An international business incubation program that supports recent graduate entrepreneurs to turn their ideas into businesses.
  4. UCC Consulting, which has never been busier, even during COVID, Ferrie reports. The consultancy team provides a comprehensive service to all academic staff undertaking consultancy work. It supports faculty by assisting with the risk management, project management, and administrative aspects involved in the delivery of consultancy work, so they can focus on applying their expertise and know-how to real-world problems.

“We have greater coherence now to our innovation activities and we are building the narrative that we are ‘open for business’ and are flexible and agile,” Ferrie adds.

The team has worked to build a platform at UCC Innovation that allows the university to take advantage of a highly professional, integrated, full-service unit that’s dedicated to the innovation agenda. It’s now the primary conduit through which the university commercializes its research, engages with industry, and seeks to secure research impact.

“While we’re seeing greater engagement with our academics and external companies and building our outputs in terms of licenses and company creation numbers, we think the real game changer is to look to maximize the quality of our family of companies such that they create greater employment opportunities in the city region and good returns for investors. This is something we are actively working to achieve over the medium term,” Ferrie says.

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