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Start-Up Snapshot highlights Emory OTT’s successes

This article appeared in the February 2015 issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. Click here for a free sample issue or click here to subscribe.

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Emory University’s Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) has produced a unique infographic that concisely organizes and highlights its start-up activity including demographics, funding activities, key successes, and direct impact on employment and product discovery. (See Figure 1 below.)

Developed both to illustrate the results of a recent survey of the university’s start-up companies and to promote those companies’ economic influence, the project was the brainchild of Todd Sherer, PhD, associate vice president and director of the OTT.

The color-coded diagram depicts, at a glance, the number of total companies spawned by the OTT (72), how many are currently active (53), how many are based in Georgia (44), and which industries the companies benefit.

Source: Emory University Office of Technology Transfer

Source: Emory University Office of Technology Transfer

Non-dilutive funding ($85 million received) and private investment capital ($1 billion received) are included, as well as a breakdown of how many start-ups received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Georgia Research Alliance assistance (22 and 19, respectively).

In addition, the infographic summarizes merger and acquisition activities, public investment capital, and employment and product innovation numbers.

This simple but effective illustration serves an important purpose for the Emory OTT. University commercialization efforts, under increased scrutiny, are not always understood by those who are not closely involved in the tech transfer process. “We knew if we could actually complete the survey, that it would have utility for a number of our different constituents. That has always been a challenge in the tech transfer world. We have so many different constituents, it’s difficult getting the message out to all of them — sometimes to any of them,” says Sherer.

Gathering data

The start-up survey was led by OTT’s marketing manager at that time, Lisa Matragrano, and took nearly 2 years to complete. Linda Kesselring, operations director for the OTT, tells Technology Transfer Tactics that they started the project with a list of target data, rather than with formal surveys to distribute to start-up companies. “Some of these data elements came from our own records, some from internet searching, and others from the phone conversations we had with company representatives. The data elements were represented in our infographic and press release.”

Sherer elaborates: “We surveyed our companies, and we weren’t surprised to find out that the survey wasn’t going to be effective by itself.” Gathering data — from the companies themselves, by digging through old press releases, and from scouring governmental websites for SBIR funding information — was going to be very time-consuming and require lots of follow-up. “What we know is that the numbers might actually be bigger, and probably are bigger. How significantly, I couldn’t say. But we only documented what we could actually find out,” he says.

The infographic was designed by an outside graphic designer who serves as a consultant to the OTT. “It’s not by accident that we have a graphic designer on retainer, because we figured out a number of years ago that we really needed to try and escalate the material in our marketing collateral, and that we needed to make it look more professional — and we needed help to do that,” says Sherer. The designer teamed with Kesselring, and together the two produced many versions of the chart, which were each subjected to an extensive review and revision process involving the entire OTT team.

From conception to completion, the design process took about three months.

Employment numbers a challenge

Gathering employment figures proved the biggest obstacle in developing the infographic. “One of the challenges in collecting this information is getting employment data from companies that no longer exist, or companies that have been acquired, or companies that are not so close to the institution anymore — still privately held and don’t necessarily want to share a lot of information. It was the hardest piece of data for us to get. And I didn’t want to do this unless we could get some kind of an employment number,” says Sherer.

“The reason we used the word ‘peak’ is that we could often only find employment numbers stated at particular times in the company’s history. So it’s not necessarily what the current employment was, and it’s not the total number of jobs,” he adds, since it would be next to impossible to learn how many people were hired in total at each company. “What we were able to do, though, is figure out how many people they had at one particular time, and we picked the time based upon the records we could find where they recorded having the most employees. Then we took that highest number for each company and added it together. So when we’re looking at the total number of jobs created, it would be substantially higher than that 1,200 we reported,” explains Sherer.

Promoting success

Emory’s OTT has publicized the infographic on its website and in press releases and other marketing materials, such as in packets and handouts for regional conferences. The piece has received some attention on social media outlets and has also garnered the attention of local associations such as the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Emory’s start-up achievements and positive local economic impact, depicted so clearly in the infographic, could serve as an excellent template for other TTOs looking to succinctly summarize and promote their own start-up activity.

Contact Sherer at 404-727-5550 or; contact Kesselring at 404-727-3857 or  

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