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Brandeis rebrands and makes a splash with AUTM exhibit

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The newly re-branded tech transfer office for Brandeis University, Brandeis Innovation, is making heads turn — most recently with its exhibit booth at this year’s annual AUTM meeting in Austin, TX. It’s not that common for a TTO to exhibit at AUTM, so what were they doing there and why?

Rebecca Menapace, associate provost for innovation and executive director of the Office of Technology Licensing, says that since they’re a smaller university, it’s sometimes difficult to get noticed. “While we’ve had luck with the partnering meetings through AUTM Connect [a networking platform for meeting attendees] in the past, we wanted to go broader and showcase our recent successes. For example, we became an NSF I-Corps site in 2017, and we recently had two of our teams make it to the national level. We’ve also created a publication of our marketing summaries, allowing people to see all our licensable technologies in one package. We’re working hard to put Brandeis on the map as a university where great research is being done, producing some extremely groundbreaking technologies.”

And, since they are an I-Corp site, they wanted to do their own customer discovery as a tech transfer office. They viewed attending AUTM’s meeting as an opportunity to learn more about their target audience, what their needs are, and how best to engage with them. In having a booth, specifically, they wanted to make it easier for people to find them and talk to them.

“We’re unique in that Brandeis University’s I-Corps program sits in the tech transfer office. This allows us efficiency in bringing new technologies to industry quickly,” she says.

Spotlighting success and services

Brandeis’ TTO started out as a traditional licensing office and then, thanks to the support of The Hassenfeld Family Initiatives through its chairman, Alan Hassenfeld, the office expanded into offering programs that support entrepreneurship across the university. They’ve been able to become a true university innovation center, with start-up competitions, programs for students, alumni and faculty to build their own innovations, and robust collaborations across the university.

To showcase this expansion, the office re-branded as Brandeis Innovation, with its own identity including a logo (a lightbulb with a sprout inside, shown in Figure 1, along with two logos for seed funding programs, SPARK and SPROUT, that incorporate some of the same elements). This has really helped cement the office’s visibility internally, on campus, and externally.

“People now understand that we have more to offer than just tech transfer — we’re a true hub for anyone looking to create something new, to be entrepreneurial,” Menapace says.

The Brandeis Innovation brand is also consistent with Brandeis University’s overall brand: “Explore without Boundaries.” That brand certainly gained some exposure when two faculty members, Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2017 for their work on circadian rhythms.

The department also recently completed its first Impact Report, examining the work done and results for fiscal year 2018. In that time, research investments of just under $55 million produced:

  • 47 invention disclosures
  • 10 patents
  • 215 MTAs
  • 10 sponsored research agreements
  • 20 NDAs
  • 6 licensing agreements
  • Nearly $3 million in revenue.

Brandeis Innovation has also worked with other departments to create an innovation resource center online. Anyone affiliated with Brandeis — students, faculty, alumni, and industry partners — can log on to find the resources they need to get involved in innovation. (See https://www.brandeis.edu/innovation/work-with-us/index.html.)

Marketing boosts brand identity

Spearheading these new marketing efforts is a newly hired marketing communications staffer who has ensured that the message is consistent, articulates value to different stakeholders, and helps the department to stay visible.

“Our marketing consultant worked with us to create a brand that reflects our values; it’s welcoming, modern and energetic,” Menapace says.

The marketing materials incorporate primary colors (i.e., blue, yellow and green), for instance, to reflect the team’s energy and the primacy of basic research. The colors also serve to ensure that everything the office produces is immediately recognizable as coming from Brandeis Innovation, while still authentically connecting with different groups on campus.

Investment pays off

This was the first time that Brandeis Innovation hosted a booth to highlight the university’s technologies and programs to AUTM attendees. The technologies showcased covered a wide range of industries ranging from therapeutics and research tools to drug delivery mechanisms and data analytics.

Menapace says the booth and the conference were successes for the TTO. In addition to presenting Brandeis’ technologies, staff also engaged in networking with industry professionals, including 15 formal partnering meetings with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as meetings with venture capitalists.

“By having the booth, we made more connections than we had at previous annual AUTM conferences, and the connections we made were not only around partnering but broader opportunities. It was very productive. We received overwhelming interest from the attendees who were eager to learn about the innovative discoveries born in Brandies labs,” she says.

Overall, the investment provided good ROI, she reports. The department pulled from a variety of funding sources in order to cover the costs, and they were also creative when it came to budgeting: they shopped around for the best deals on producing the booth, were frugal with travel, and avoided those extras that can add up in any exhibition.

Evolving external efforts

As the department evolves, it’s expanded from licensing only to serving as a bridge between Brandeis research and academics and the greater Boston and global tech community. This year, they’re aiming to be more externally facing than ever, and this year’s AUTM attendance was their flagship effort.

Brandeis Innovation Mass Innovation Nights is another external effort, which is one of the region’s most prominent tech showcases. It’s a grassroots event that really resonates with the university’s philosophy: inclusive, resourceful, and community-driven. The TTO is also working on continuing to broaden the exposure of its SPARK and SPROUT start-up and grant funding competitions, as well as its I-Corps programs.

In fact, the department has expanded services so much that they now impact one in six members of the Brandeis community.
So, what’s next for Brandeis Innovation? According to Menapace, they want to raise an accelerator fund to build on the success of SPROUT and SPARK. That would help them fund more promising technologies and enhance their ability to support technologies already in their programs with more marketing, training and development.

“We want to get noticed in the sea of other offices. We have a lot to offer at Brandeis.” Menapace says.

Contact Menapace at 781-736-2176 or menapace@brandeis.edu.


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