Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Turning foreign students into start-up founders: A trip that requires a savvy guide


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

Universities, research parks, and society at large benefit enormously from the innovative minds that come to America from around the world, but only if our immigration system doesn’t slam the door in their faces.

When a foreign national develops a new idea, one that may result in a new U.S. business he or she wants to own, lead, or simply be part of, there is a labyrinth of laws to navigate. That can be a complex, time-consuming, and resource-intensive journey with several forks in the road. The best guide for this trip is an immigration attorney who specializes in getting foreign nationals on the path that works best for them, his or her university, and the beneficiaries of their inventions.

But there is a wrinkle. “The employment-based immigration system in the United States was created for foreign nationals who come to work for U.S. companies, not to found these companies,” attorney Jason Susser says. “Existing visa categories require that companies control the employment of the individual benefitting from a visa petition. You need to adopt a different strategy when dealing with entrepreneurs.”

Susser said his clients often come to the U.S. for graduate school using F-1 student visas as their entryway. A person in the country on an F-1 visa can study but they cannot work, except for a single year after graduation intended for practical training or work experience. If through their study or research they come up with a new idea, they find themselves stuck between inventing something and being legally allowed to work and develop it.

“Many of my clients come up with an idea,” Susser explains, “but can’t or don’t know if they can incorporate a company, file patent applications, secure venture capital, and do all the things a start-up needs to do. They can go from an F1 visa to Optional Practical Training for F-1, when they have work authorization, giving them time to raise capital and try to go to market. But they do not get a long runway, just one to three years. This time goes quickly considering the time it takes to set up a business, hire people, and search for investors.”

Investment challenges are common for start-ups, but that challenge is even bigger for foreign nationals. “It’s hard to raise capital or sell an idea when you don’t know if you will be here in 12 months,” he says. “Investors want to know, ‘where is the CEO of this company?’ It doesn’t help if the CEO is back in India or China, unable to return to the U.S.”

Students who have earned a degree in certain STEM fields may apply for a 24-month extension of their post-completion OPT employment authorization.

Susser, who practices in the Memphis-based law firm of SiskindSusser PC, tries to find employment-based visas, which comprise the one category intended for something close to the scenario where foreign nationals wish to launch U.S. businesses. But E-2 visas, commonly referred to as investor visas, were designed for active investments, not passive investments, Susser explained. “E visas are for someone who wants to come here and operate a company, and are based on treaties the U.S. has with other countries.”

The U.S. has treaties with 81 countries, but not with some of the countries whose residents most typically (and urgently) seek visas to study and/or work in the United States, like China, India, Russia and Brazil. “Countries not represented in these treaties may allow for entry through other visa categories, so choosing the right path is often done by process of elimination. This can be very complicated,” Susser said.

H-1B is the most common employment visa, designed for specialty occupations, but the situation calls for an employer-employee relationship. “There can be many equity owners but someone else has to control your employment. This is not entrepreneur friendly,” Susser explained, “because foreign innovators have to give up control of their own company or idea, and can even be fired from the company they founded. This is something a U.S. citizen would never do.”

Many universities have used the H-1B approach, offering at least part-time employment to foreign students, who can then use at least part of their time to continue building their venture.

Susser says his preferred option is the O-1 visa, which is designed for “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.”

A detailed article on securing visas for foreign student entrepreneurs appears in the March issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription information, click here.

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MIT will release free plans to build inexpensive emergency ventilators for COVID-19 patients


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is addressing the lack of hospital ventilators for patients with COVID-19 by posting free plans online for a device that can be built for $100. continue reading »

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Anatomy of an IP License Agreement: Webinar Workshop for Tech Transfer Professionals


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

Every license negotiation and resulting agreement is different, but they all share one thing in common: using clear, well-defined terms is important to clarify the rights and obligations of each party and to align the parties’ interests in moving academic innovations to the marketplace. From royalty calculations and equity provisions to patent prosecution costs and sublicensing — and everything in between — the details in that agreement are critical to get right for your inventors, your TTO, your licensee, and your university.

Having a solid foundation of expertise in drafting those terms and provisions can make all the difference — and it’s even more critical for new licensing staff (though even the grizzled veterans can always use a refresher). That’s why Tech Transfer Central’s Distance Learning Division has tapped Director of Licensing for the University of Michigan Bryce Pilz to lead this intensive 90-minute webinar workshop. Mr. Pilz will use a real license agreement and dissect it to discuss each section in depth. Join us for Anatomy of an IP License Agreement: Webinar Workshop for Tech Transfer Professionals, scheduled for April 8th. For complete details and to register, click here.

Also coming soon:

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UW-Madison researcher helps bring new face shields to doctors treating COVID-19


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

A researcher at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison has created a new face shield to protect hospital staff who are testing and treating patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lennon Rodgers, director of the Engineering Design Innovation Lab at UW-Madison, was initially approached by the university’s hospital, which needed 1,000 face shields because its usual suppliers were out of stock due to the current crisis. Rodgers tested a few different designs with a small team and eventually developed a prototype, which the hospital approved.

Since then, Rodgers and his team have sent more than 1,000 face shields to the hospital.

The face shield design, known as the Badger Shield, requires just three pieces, is relatively straightforward to make, and is lightweight. Rodgers posted it online for others to use, and now Ford has picked it up, with plans to produce more than 75,000 Badger Shields for Detroit area hospitals.

While a number of engineers and hobbyists have created medical equipment to fill the void left in the wake of the coronavirus, Rodgers is one of the few to take a device into medically approved, mass-scale production.

“We’re filling a niche while the high-volume supply chains have broken down,” says Jesse Darley, a mechanical engineer who is helping Rodgers with the Badger Shield. According to Darley, if other manufacturers like Ford adopt the design, “I think we can ramp up production pretty quickly.”

Source: Wired

Tech Transfer Central is hosting a free emergency webinar, Managing TTO Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Planning for Future Disruptions, scheduled for next Tuesday, April 7th. Join your colleagues in the research commercialization community for information sharing and guidance on how to operate in the current environment during the coronavirus outbreak. For details and to register, click here.

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Georgia-based initiative aims to address shortage of face masks


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

The Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), the first and only comprehensive medical device center in the Southeast, is collaborating with a group of Atlanta-area researchers to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital workers dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. continue reading »

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Students and faculty at Colorado State developing spray to kill COVID-19 in large venues


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

A team of students and faculty at Colorado State University (CSU) are using vaccine research to develop a disinfectant spray to kill COVID-19 on surfaces, particularly in large building and venues. continue reading »

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Optimizing Tech Transfer Office Operations


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

Tech Transfer Central has partnered with leading tech transfer consultants at Fuentek, LLC, to bring you an exclusive two-program distance learning collection that will guide you through creating Standard Operating Procedures for your office, and provide best practices for improving your data integrity so you can respond quickly and accurately to both operational and stakeholder reporting needs.

You’ll receive these two recorded programs in three formats — DVD, online video, and transcript — so you can view and share them with your entire staff at your convenience in any format:

  • Improving Data Integrity: Boost TTO Operations and Gain Reliability in Your Invention Management Database – Your invention management database is a crucial tool in responding quickly and accurately to both operational and stakeholder reporting needs. Regardless of what type of system you use, you will learn how to significantly improve data collection and reporting to enhance your office’s performance and its responsiveness to stakeholders.
  • Standard Operating Procedures for TTOs: How Consistency Can Improve TTO Performance and Productivity – Well-drafted SOPs document exactly what your office does, who does what, and how it is done most effectively. Though they can be time-consuming to develop, the reward for investing in SOPs is a higher performing and more efficient operation, consistency in recordkeeping, faster integration of new staff, and improved faculty service.

For complete details or to order, click here.

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Battelle develops technology to decontaminate N95 respirator masks


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

Battelle, a global research and development organization, has created a new technology to decontaminate single-use disposable N95 respirator masks, which protect hospital workers and emergency responders from contracting coronavirus. continue reading »

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U of Texas start-up lands $80M investment to accelerate lung disease drugs


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

A University of Texas (UT) start-up has landed an $80 million investment to advance its lung disease drugs to the marketplace.

ReCode Therapeutics has developed experimental drugs to treat cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia, which are both marked by chronic respiratory infections. The start-up aims to file an investigational new drug application with the FDA by 2021.

Global healthcare investor OrbiMed Advisors and Dallas-based Colt Ventures led the $80M funding round. As part of the funding, ReCode will merge with TranscripTx, a company focused on treating primary ciliary dyskinesia.

According to TranscripTx CEO David Lockhart, the investment will enable ReCode to develop an organ-specific delivery system that converts a liquid drug into an inhalable aerosol. By creating its own delivery system, the start-up can save costs and develop potential future technologies based on the system.

“For these types of drugs, delivery is half the game,” says Lockhart. “We can go full speed ahead on the drugs for cystic fibrosis and primary ciliary dyskinesia and focus on the technology to accompany it. The money allows us to do all of that but also fund us until 2023.”

Source: The Dallas Morning News

Easy eNPV is a new software tool that provides its users with unprecedented ability to efficiently and accurately forecast the financial performance of new drug candidates and produce valuations. Click here for details.

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NC State researchers create blood-clotting technology to treat chronic wounds


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 1st, 2020

Researchers at North Carolina State University (NC State) have developed a technology that mimics the body’s natural clotting process to enhance treatment outcomes for patients with chronic wounds. continue reading »

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Cornell program offers on-ramp for women entrepreneurs


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: March 25th, 2020

The number of women and minorities pursuing STEM fields at Cornell University has surpassed the national average and is still growing. That good news is muted somewhat, however, by the fact that the number of Cornell women in STEM who hold patents and participate in entrepreneurial programs lags well behind Cornell men. Only 23% of patent-holders at the university are female faculty, and the number of STEM women participating in entrepreneurship programs tends to be dwarfed by their male counterparts. The unfortunate truth is that at Cornell and throughout the U.S., the increasing number of women in STEM fields is not leading to the formation of high-growth start-ups founded by STEM women.

Women need a better on-ramp to entrepreneurship, and Andrea Ippolito, lecturer in the Engineering Management Program and College of Business at Cornell, is doing something about it. Eighteen months ago she launched Women Entrepreneurs Cornell (W.E. Cornell) at the university’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement.

W.E. Cornell is one of many entrepreneurship programs at Cornell: the university’s “Entrepreneurship Program Map” lists a total of 41 programs. These programs include the PhD Commercialization Fellowship, the eLab, Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, and the BioVenture Lab. Ippolito knew that the number of women participating in these programs was disproportionately low, so she asked likely candidates why they weren’t enrolling. She found that it wasn’t due to a lack of business-worthy ideas, but that they didn’t think they were ready to move forward to commercialization. Some women told her that entrepreneurship was something people in the business school might do, but as engineers, they did not feel qualified to enter that career path.

When women do decide to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, they face many gender-based barriers. Ippolito gave expert testimony on these barriers before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Small Business on January 15, 2020. She outlined three main reasons why women own fewer patents and launch fewer start-ups than their male counterparts:

  • They are fighting an uphill battle against gender bias;
  • There are fewer women than men in patent-intensive fields; and
  • They have less access to mentors and institutional resources.

Ippolito describes an MIT study illustrating one type of gender bias that budding women entrepreneurs face. The researchers compared the success of women vs. men pitching the same content to investors. First, both groups pitched orally without being seen by the investors. They also did a round where the investors could both hear them and see them. In both scenarios, the investors thought that the investment the males were pitching was a better opportunity, even though both men and women used the same content.

“The women going into STEM fields might be interested in tech transfer, but they’re still interacting with cultural norms within academic departments and labs and also within companies,” notes Dr. Susan Fleming, entrepreneur in residence at the Center for Regional Economic Advancement at Cornell and a W.E. Cornell mentor.

The second barrier — having fewer women than men in patent-intensive fields — may not be immediately apparent. After all, there are growing numbers of women entering academia in STEM fields. Many of these STEM fields, however, do not generate a large number of patents.

Ippolito highlighted this issue in her testimony to Congress, stating that “at Cornell University, where I teach, 50% of all undergraduate engineering students are women. But getting more women into STEM fields is not enough. [Rutgers University Economics Professor] Jennifer Hunt and her team found that women’s lower probability of having a STEM degree accounted for only seven percent of the gender gap in commercialized patents. The real gap comes from the rate of women involved in patent-intensive fields, such as electrical and mechanical engineering.”

Ippolito hopes to address the shortage of women in patent-intensive fields through the W.E. Cornell program. “For next year’s program, we’re going to be a lot more laser-focused on attracting some of those deeper tech fields where we see these large gaps between males and female participation,” she says.

The lack of mentors and role models hinders women from pursuing all STEM fields and may be a more significant barrier than gender bias. “Not to say that there aren’t women that are starting companies — there are many,” Ippolito emphasizes. “But there’s not that exposure. You can’t be what you can’t see. If we can better expose women and minorities to these role models, then we believe that this can help us more efficiently use the incredible brainpower and talent pool that is starting to pour into the system.”

A detailed article on the W.E. Cornell program appears in the March issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. For subscription information, click here.

Tech Transfer Central has announced a free emergency webinar, Managing TTO Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Planning for Future Disruptions, scheduled for April 7th. Join your colleagues in the research commercialization community for information sharing and guidance on how to operate in the current environment during the coronavirus outbreak. For details and to register, click here.

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U of Arizona start-up is offering its e-learning platform for free to help universities during coronavirus crisis


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: March 25th, 2020

A University of Arizona (UA) start-up is offering its educational software for free to help universities move their classes online as the coronavirus crisis deepens. continue reading »

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