Tech Transfer eNews Blog

With university start-up investments scarce in COVID times, find ways to pivot


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A detailed article on supporting university start-ups through the current economic conditions appears in the May issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription details, click here.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the prospects and bottom line of university start-ups as they find investments difficult to come by and their usual work coming to a halt with the rest of the economy. Some are pivoting to other work in the meantime, but the effects of the pandemic are likely to hurt many start-ups for months, if not longer.

Funding has become a serious problem for many start-ups, says Tyson Benson, JD, a patent attorney with the law firm of Harness Dickey in Detroit, MI. With the economy slowing to a crawl and massive losses in the stock market, investors are not eager to take a risk on start-ups, he says.

About 35% to 50% of investment sources are no longer available to start-ups, he says. “Series A, Series B, those types of investment rounds are starting to get tougher out there because funding is drying up. What that means is that you’re going to have start-ups that have to figure out how to burn less cash,” Benson says. “Some of the ways to do that are through employee retention policies, possibly some exchange in equity in order to prevent cash going out the door. They may want to take a look at their business models, particularly those that are on the lower end in a highly competitive marketplace.”

In a market that has many start-ups offering apps, for instance, a start-up with moderate or lower market share might have to reevaluate its approach and change the product in some way that more clearly sets it apart from competitors, he says.

“In a time when funding is so scarce, you may not receive the same funding as your competitors with a better market share or better branding,” Benson says. “With everyone chasing the same few dollars, the companies that have already established themselves as viable are going to fare better than a start-up that might be up and coming but still needs more time to establish itself.”

Start-ups also must protect their IP, but some tough calls may be necessary, Benson says. When deploying capital to sustain the business model, it may be necessary to cut from the IP budget, he says.

“That may mean potentially not filing any patent applications, or filing one patient application when you should have filed two or three,” he says. “Trademarks are the same way, because each of those instances requires capital.”

But Benson says start-ups can still fare well in a hard economy. He reflects back on the economic downturn of 2007 to 2009, noting that start-ups were still able to find their footing during that Great Recession, growing through slow times and ready when the market started to thrive again.

“There were a number of unicorns that came out of that recession. Airbnb was one that rose from that recession,” Benson observes. “The founders were having trouble making rent at the time, and that’s how they developed the Airbnb concept. So start-ups can be successful in this environment.”

But new ventures will have to be able to prove their success and promise with more metrics than might previously been expected, he cautions. Most are responding as well as can be expected, he says, because the pandemic is such a black swan event that it was difficult for anyone to have a response plan.

“There are some start-ups that are handling it better than others. The successful start-ups are the ones reducing the cash burn,” Benson comments. “Typically about 30% of start-ups live on about three months of start-up capital and then they have to get replenished again. Now I’m seeing statistics that take number up to 50% running on capital that only provides a few months of leeway.”

That means those start-ups will have to find new capital in next few months or make drastic changes to strategy. The only other alternative may be to close the doors, Benson says.

“You have to change your business model or find a way to pivot to another business model,” he says. “You might be one of those left for dead if you’re not pivoting quickly enough.”

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Weathering the COVID-19 Storm: Supporting University-Based Start-ups and Protecting Intellectual Property


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

The coronavirus shutdown brings a whole new set of unknowns, what-ifs, and other uncertainties for technology transfer offices and the start-ups they’re nurturing. Most will feel the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for months and possibly years to come.  As a result, tech transfer offices and the start-up companies they support need to work together to navigate these choppy waters while protecting their intellectual property. For example, taking advantage of various governmental programs such as the CARES ACT, modifying license terms and conditions, and conserving capital.

Tech Transfer Central’s Distance Learning Division has teamed up with esteemed attorney Tyson Benson and Mark S. Coburn, Senior Associate Director in Georgia Tech Research Corporation’s Office of Industry Engagement, for this guidance-filled webinar that will discuss the critical issues that TTOs and university start-ups are facing — and how to successfully navigate these new challenges: Weathering the COVID-19 Storm: Supporting University-Based Start-ups and Protecting Intellectual Property, scheduled for May 27. For complete details and to register, click here.

Also coming soon:

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IP Watchdog ranks top U.S. universities for start-up creation


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

MIT, Columbia University and Purdue University have been listed by IP Watchdog as the top three U.S. universities for start-up creation.

According to the IP Watchdog report, from 2008 to 2018, MIT launched 244 startups based on university technology, while Columbia launched 194 and Purdue started 174. The following universities round out the top 10 for that 10-year period: continue reading »

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USPTO launches web platform to list coronavirus-related patents


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has launched a new online marketplace to provide an easy, searchable database of patents related to COVID-19 for licensing and commercialization.

The Patents 4 Partnerships program allows users to search and sort the patents based on keywords, inventor names, assignees, issue dates and other factors. The available technologies are drawn from a variety of public sources including the USPTO, the FDA, CDC, the National Institutes of Health, the US Department of Defense, NASA, universities, and more. continue reading »

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Neovii enters license agreement with Tel Aviv U to advance novel COVID-19 vaccine


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

Neovii, a Swiss-based biopharmaceutical company, has entered into a research and license agreement with Ramot, the tech transfer arm of Tel Aviv University (TAU), to advance a novel and potentially life-saving COVID-19 vaccine. continue reading »

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New partnership makes royalty rate database available to universities at a price they can afford


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

Through a new partnership between Tech Transfer Central and Sectilis®, a service from RoyaltyStat, our university customers now have access to this incredibly powerful royalty rates database – at an incredibly affordable price.

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Subscriptions start at just $600 with access to the full database for searches along with 40 royalty rate reports. Each subscription includes knowledge-based customer service by experienced representatives, including assistance with the formulation of search criteria to find comparable royalty rates. Royalty rates are sourced from RoyaltyStat®, an industry-leading database comprised of 21,272 unique and unredacted license agreements, with new data added daily. Click here for more details.

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Omaha company to manufacture respirator mask designed at U of Nebraska Medical Center


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A mask designed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) has been picked up by an Omaha company to address hospital needs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Created by UNMC researcher Steven Lisco, the Infectious Aerosol Capture Mask has been adopted by the university’s operating and recovery rooms, where surgical teams are often exposed to air contaminants from coughing patients. continue reading »

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Indiana U start-up connects major brands with event sponsorships


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A start-up from Indiana University aims to help connect universities and others who host events to connect with sponsoring companies through its online portal. It could be a way for TTOs, engagement offices, and other campus offices to help underwrite their educational and outreach events without much effort. continue reading »

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Penn start-up uses AI to avoid racial profiling while protecting stores from shoplifters


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A University of Pennsylvania start-up has developed an AI technology that helps keep shopping areas secure while avoiding racial-, gender- or age-based profiling.

Rather than using regular video surveillance, Percepta tracks shoppers’ body movements to anonymously detect when people look up for cameras or sneak products into their clothing. If Percepta’s system determines that a person is likely stealing, it sends an image of that person via a mobile app to the store’s security staff, who ultimately decide whether to intervene or not.

The co-founders of Percepta, all Penn undergraduates, call it “ethical” artificial intelligence. “It’s a social good, but it’s also a competitive advantage,” says co-founder and CEO Philippe Sawaya. “We’ve seen that the public perception of AI is that it can be biased, and the public just isn’t going to accept that.”

Percepta has raised $77,000 so far, including a prize from the Penn Wharton Startup Challenge at the start of the month. The company plans to use the funds to further develop its technology and begin marketing efforts.

According to co-founder Neil Gramopadhye, Percepta will pilot the security system in smaller spaces like the Penn bookstore before making plans to move on to big chains like Target or Walmart.

“It’s part of our large vision that we want to be the new standard in retail,” Gramopadhye says. “When you see this store uses Percepta, you know you won’t be racially profiled.” Source: https://technical.ly/philly/2020/05/13/percepta-wharton-startup-ethical-ai-artificial-intelligence-avoid-racial-profiling-shoplifting-monitoring/

Patenting Machine Learning and AI Innovations: Strengthen Your Claims to Avoid Rejection

To help TTOs best protect their growing portfolios of machine learning and AI technologies, Tech Transfer Central partnered with Gregory Rabin, Senior Attorney with law firm Schwegman, Lundberg Woessner, to present this critical distance learning program that will help you effectively protect and prepare to enforce machine learning and AI inventions. Click here for more details.

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Multi-school research team attempts to bring AI capabilities to smartphones


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A team of researchers from across several universities is working on a new approach to software design that could bring artificial intelligence (AI) directly to smartphones. Currently, mobile devices use AI technologies through the cloud, but the new CoCoPIE software framework could arm mobile devices with real AI capability. continue reading »

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Purdue start-up turns wastewater algae into eco-friendly chemical products


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

A Purdue University start-up is recycling hazardous waste algae to create new, profitable and environmentally friendly products.

Gen3Bio’s technology can transform the algae found in municipal wastewater into a useful ingredient for specialty biobased chemical products such as aquaculture fish food, biodegradable plastics or succinic acid. Gen3Bio aims to apply its technology to wastewater treatment facilities and industrial plants that typically dispose of their algae in landfills, which is both expensive and ecologically unsustainable. continue reading »

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NSWC-Corona to anchor new innovation and tech transfer hub


By David Schwartz
Published: May 19th, 2020

The US Navy has announced a new tech hub that will connect Navy command with local partners in academia, industry, nonprofits and venture capital to collaborate on advanced solutions to warfighter challenges. continue reading »

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