Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Proactive approaches boost faculty engagement and bring in disclosures

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 26th, 2023

A detailed article on the keys to effective faculty engagement and its impact on invention disclosure submissions appears in the April issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

The keys to successful faculty engagement, shared a trio of presenters at the recent AUTM 2023 Annual Meeting, include being proactive and accessible — “meeting them where they are.” The panel offered a range of strategies for building faculty ties, improving outreach, and bringing in more disclosures.

“We have two goals,” said Chris Willson, senior licensing officer with The Ohio State University and moderator of the panel, entitled “Faculty Care and Feeding to Grow Relationships and Disclosures.” To ensure good faculty relationships, he observed, “you need to work with them cooperatively, and you need to engage with them on a regular basis.”

Holly Symonds Clark, PhD, senior commercialization manager at the University of Kentucky, summed up the reason TTOs must work so hard to gain faculty trust and engagement. “They don’t need us,” she said. “Yeah, they’re required to disclose, but I’d guess you don’t have a policy where if they’re about to file a manuscript to a journal they all have to come through your office to check for innovations. Let’s add to that all the posters and abstracts; they’re not really required [to disclose].” She contrasts that reality with sponsored research, where grant funding absolutely depends on working with the university’s sponsored research office. “So we really need to foster that engagement,” she stressed.

Relationship management needs to be on top of every TTO’s priorities for a very simple reason: without it, deals often fall apart if they get off the ground in the first place.

“If I were to ask you what makes deals crash and burn, you might say they did not get funding, or that the science did not pan out, but I’d put the relationship pretty high on that list — where a researcher does not get along with the licensee, or founders do not get along with the business because they just don’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “A lot of these relationship issues extend from a lack of understanding industry culture, and we really work hard to mentor and build that trust.”

One of the keys to building faculty relationships, Symonds Clark stated, is “meeting them where they are.” But how is that done in everyday practice?

At Ohio State, an intensive effort to reach out to faculty and garner more invention disclosures is bearing fruit. “In October 2021 we initiated a targeted in-reach program to emphasize faculty engagement,” Willson reported. “We all had been working remotely for a couple of years, and we also wanted to make sure faculty understood what our office is and who we are.”

This approach involved two key strategies. One was called the “Innovation Disclosure Sprint.’ “This was a very broad approach,” he said. “We sent our standardized e-mail to unit researchers. We also worked with the sponsored projects office where awards were closing. If you have a $300 million grant, we want to talk to those people, understand what the research is, and whether there’s a chance to work with them in terms of enhancing the dissemination of the work they’ve been doing. We also worked with colleges and centers to identify their top [research] themes, and to target specific researchers.

In the second strategy, “licensing officers send meeting requests daily to engage with faculty and set up in-person meetings — 30 minutes in their office to learn about their research and see if there are opportunities,” Willson shared. “If not, at least they know who you are, and if something comes up, they’ll know who to reach out to.” These e-mails are sent to each day to different faculty. “Sometimes the answer comes back, ‘I am REALLY BUSY and do not have time to meet,’” he noted. “That’s fine; a fast ‘No’ is good. Often, I say, ‘I’d love to meet [later] — let’s set up a time.’”

Faculty are also invited to come to the monthly licensing team meetings, where they are asked about their interaction with the office, providing “real customer feedback” on what improvements faculty would like to see. “Then we finally do a faculty presentation at departmental meetings,” said Willson.

Since initiating the ID Sprint and related efforts, Willson reported, those inreach activities have been linked to 37% of new disclosures, and 41% so far in fiscal 2023. “So we see an uptick,” he said. “We feel this is very valuable in getting faculty to further engage and make those disclosures.”

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