Tech Transfer eNews Blog

U Vermont taps undergrads to help its small TTO get more technology to market

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: September 13th, 2023

A detailed article on the University of Vermont’s Academic Research Commercialization (ARC) program appears in the August issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. To subscribe and access the complete article, or for further subscription details, click here.

Smaller tech transfer offices that struggle to devote enough time and resources to launching start-ups may want to take a page out of a new playbook being rolled out at the University of Vermont. In fact, the strategy being employed there — a novel approach utilizing undergraduates to commercialize research discoveries — could be an effective add-on for any TTO, even the largest of which often lack enough manpower to effectively move forward on every promising innovation.

The Academic Research Commercialization program grew out of the UVM Entrepreneurship Club in 2021. Two students initially brought the idea to the vice president for research, who provided initial funding and placed ARC under UVM Innovations, the university’s technology licensing and commercialization arm led by Corine Farewell. It’s a four-person office, with the most recent hire being Mollie Davis as student entrepreneurship coordinator.

The ARC has students work in start-up teams while they develop business models, conduct customer discovery, and develop commercialization strategies for their chosen technology – technologies with real potential from the university’s portfolio. “This year we have three teams with three students on each team, plus a student director of the ARC program, and they are researching three different technologies,” says Davis. “They are all at different stages in their work.”

ARC is primarily a paid internship program, although some college departments allow students to earn credit for the work. Students work full-time (37.5 hours a week) in summer and 15 hours a week during the academic year. Pay is controlled by a union, so team leads and the student leader earn $17.85 an hour. Team members earn $15.75 an hour. “We try to emphasize a living wage,” says Farewell. They work out of the university’s two incubators, Hula Lakeside and Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, side-by-side with other early-stage start-ups.

“The payment part was very important to us,” Davis notes. “It’s truly open to all students, so maybe students who don’t have the financial wherewithal to volunteer or do something for credit would still have the opportunity to participate in ARC and contribute. The student teams are put together in terms of what the faculty technology needs. They might need a marketing person, [or] they might need a social media guru. So it’s not just business or those skills, but many different skills across the university can come to bear,” she adds.

“One of the areas the students have been really successful with in the past is doing pitch competitions. Not just within UVM, but nationally. We had one of our teams present at TechCrunch last year, and not in the kids’ division. They were taken very seriously and presented a new business that’s coming out of the university,” Davis says. “So it’s truly a real-world experience, which is a lot of fun for the students. A little scary for us sometimes, but it’s been very successful.”

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