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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Reorganizations are giving TTOs a much bigger role in industry engagement


By David Schwartz
Published: November 16th, 2021

A detailed article on the trend toward integration of tech transfer and industry engagement activity appears in the November issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here. 

In a number of recent reorganizations, universities have combined a traditional tech transfer office with corporate engagement, and in many cases the TTOs are taking a much larger role than before. This is the result of a combination of trends; an expanded understanding of what a TTO is, and data showing a broader contribution to overall engagement than perhaps was previously recognized.

“What we saw when we looked back over three years’ worth of sponsored research agreements with companies — the top 25, with over $100 million in awards — was that 100% of those agreements involved support from our licensing team to negotiate the IP terms,” reports Kelly B. Sexton, PhD, associate vice president for research and innovation partnerships at the University of Michigan. “We also saw [their involvement in] start-ups created, which also engaged in sponsored research. We saw an emerging need to have closer ties to our IP licensing group to be very successful — to put in place the kinds of sponsored research groups that companies look to have.”

In response to these and other factors, the university recently announced the launch of Innovation Partnerships, a reorganized unit based in the Office of the Vice President for Research, which incorporates the rebranded Office of Technology Transfer and some elements and staff of the former Business Engagement Center.

The University of Utah went even further about 18 months ago, when it created a plan to use the TTO as the “foundational platform” for a combined unit, says Keith Marmer, chief innovation & engagement officer. “Then, we added not just corporate engagement, but economic development,” he notes. The organization, called The PIVOT Center (Partners for Innovation, Ventures, Outreach & Technology), “is responsible for all three of those, and we operate them in a fully integrated fashion.”

These universities are not alone. For example, Sexton notes that U-M incorporated elements from several recent reorgs, including those at Johns Hopkins, MIT, and Penn. Other recent reorganizations giving a prominent industry engagement role to the TTO include Duke University, The University of Pittsburgh, CU Boulder, Drexel, UC Santa Cruz and Ohio State.

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Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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