Worth Reading: Student Entrepreneurship, Hy-LIEs, Open Innovation, and More

Over the holiday weekend, I caught up on some interesting technology transfer articles, papers, and blogs. Today, I share them with you.

Bayh-Dole Supporting Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Released by the Association of University Technology Managers® (AUTM®) and published on IPWatchdog.com®, this article provides preliminary data on a survey of nearly 100 academic institutions worldwide regarding their “acceptance and encouragement of students in the economic development of their ideas.” Well more than two-thirds reported that they provide a variety of programs and resources to help support student innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialization.

A single example of such a program was featured in the November issue of Technology Transfer Tactics. As reported in “‘Fast Fifteen’ Gives Start-Ups at NC State Greater Visibility and Targeted Support,” North Carolina State University’s New Venture Services (part of the school’s TTO) established a yearly class/portfolio of 15 startups that can be supported, developed, and marketed as a single group for stronger branding and greater efficiency and effectiveness. Now in its second year, the Fast 15 program culminates with what’s known as its signature event, in which the startups pitch to serial entrepreneurs, early-stage investors and NC State’s “innovation ecosystem.”

And that turn of phrase brings me to yet another item worth reading…

The Strategic Value of a University’s Hyper-Local Innovation Ecosystem (Hy-LIE): Grow, Branch or Envy: I found this academic paper when it was posted as a discussion in the Global Academic Innovation Network (GAIN) group on LinkedIn by author Mike Alvarez Cohen, who is director of Innovation Ecosystem Development for the University of California at Berkeley. In it, Cohen rightly posits that a university’s Hy-LIE — that is, “its readily accessible community of startup and mature companies along with entrepreneurs, mentors and early stage investors” — is a strategic asset that drives not only the region’s economic vitality but also the institution’s competitiveness and prestige. This in turn has a positive impact for the institution’s STEM-B (science, technology, engineering, math, and business) programs as well as its sponsored research, commercialization efforts, and more.

Cohen’s paper summarizes techniques to grow a robust Hy-LIE or to branch-out by establishing a sister campus in another region’s thriving Hy-LIE. One great example of the latter is the University Technology Enterprise Network Portugal (UTEN Portugal), which has taken the cross-university collaboration concept I discussed back in August even further. This network of Portuguese university TTOs collaborating with each other and with the University of Texas at Austin (under the UT Austin|Portugal Program) “to promote the development of globally competitive and sustainable Portuguese technology commercialization infrastructure.” (You’ll hear more from me about this group early in the new year, as I will be speaking at UTEN Portugal’s annual conference in Lisbon next month.)

Again, I agree with Cohen’s argument that universities need to build hyper-local capabilities in order to be competitive in the future. However, I disagree with Figure 2’s implication that commercialization is better or the impact greater when occurring via the Hy-LIE. Yes, the market (y-axis) drives the transition from research to product, and no university program (x-axis) can make a commercialization successful if the market isn’t interested in the technology. But let’s not put all of our eggs in one basket. For some technologies, the best party to commercialize it is a nearby company — and this is particularly true for the many embryonic technologies emerging from universities that often are best commercialized via startups in the Hy-LIE — but for other technologies commercialization success is best achieved through a company in the broader region or around the world. So even when you have (or have worked to build) a robust Hy-LIE, don’t forget to look globally for the best licensee/partner. This will also help balance the risk in your commercialization strategy since startups have a high failure rate. (Nothing negative about this statement, just a natural part of the process.)

Editor’s note: Scroll down to the comments to see a Schoppe–Cohen discussion on this.

Speaking of looking beyond your backyard…

Eli Lilly and Company – Open for Innovation: Published in Life Science Leader magazine, this article describes a great example of increasing the frequency and speed of collaborations. Lilly’s goal was to gain access to compounds and scientific expertise from universities and small/emerging biotechs to boost the company’s drug development. They achieved this goal by:

  • Using what they had (biological data) that would be of value to the collaborators as a “carrot” — a key technique in Symbiotic Innovation
  • Working with AUTM to develop a standard, no-negotiations Material Transfer Agreement — an excellent way to streamline the process while ensuring that you understand the needs of the target prospects
  • Publicizing the program via traditional media, digital streams, and one-on-one contacts —  they will come not just if you build it but if you also have good marketing communications
  • Focusing on the internal barriers as well — sometimes your own colleagues are the biggest obstacle to open innovation

Finally, I want to offer kudos to the University of Kansas’s Julie Goonewardene for publishing “How to License Great Technology” on Inc.com. This is a good article that reminds industry that universities are a great source for technology solutions and lists five things for companies to keep in mind when contemplating licensing technology from a university. And I’d also offer a gentle reminder to our TTO readers regarding the first item on her list:

“Do the president, provosts, deans, and trustees make it easy to work with the university, or do they strew barriers in your path? Are they transparent with their people, processes and results? Sometimes university leadership disagrees about the proper role of commercialization to the school, making it much harder to do business with them. If a university makes it difficult to find information, it’s probably best to move on.”

If this is the situation at your university, you might want to share this article with your institution’s leadership.

What are some of the great things you’ve read lately? Post a comment below or send me a private message via our Contact Us page.

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Posted by Laura Schoppe

One Response to Worth Reading: Student Entrepreneurship, Hy-LIEs, Open Innovation, and More

  1. admin says:

    There is an interesting discussion going on in the Global Academic Innovation Network (GAIN) group on LinkedIn regarding the Hy-LIE article. Here are the postings as of Nov. 27th. (Thanks to Mike Cohen for permission to post his comments here.) The discussion began with Fuentek’s Laura Schoppe reiterating her comments about Cohen’s Hy-LIE paper (see blog post above).

    Mike Cohen • Hi, Laura. Thanks for introducing me to UTEN Portugal and the UT Austin-Portugal CoLab. They are great examples of innovative approaches to collaborative research and commercialization.

    I agree with your comments that, “universities shouldn’t put all of their [commercialization] eggs in one basket”. When I use Figure 2 in my presentation, I annotate it such that it doesn’t imply that one basket approach. Instead the purpose of Figure 2 is to graphically emphasize that:

    (1) a university’s systematic efforts to commercialize its technologies are important, BUT can reach a level of diminishing returns — and can even become wasteful;

    (2) in contrast, a university Hy-LIE’s organic activities around commercializing technologies is not asymptotic, and therefore benefits from an increasingly larger Hy-LIE.

    Also, I agree with your comment that, in many cases, the best industry partner for commercialization a technology is not a locally-based company. However, a key point of the article is that when that partner is in a university’s Hy-LIE, then it not only benefits the local economy, it also can benefit the university’s research and education missions.

    Thanks again for your feedback.

    Laura Schoppe • Mike, thanks for clarifying Figure 2. You are right that there are points of diminishing returns in commercialization efforts so it’s important to constantly monitor progress on specific projects and know when to call it quits, as well as not implement more “process” than your office is willing and able to follow-through with. A filtering process that takes consecutively more involved steps to identify techs with potential can also help make sure you don’t spend too many resources on the wrong things (I think that’s the systematic efforts you are referring to).

    Is your (2) point above not asymptomatic because external organizations are the ones expending resources to expand the Hy-LIE rather than the tech transfer office (TTO)? And that’s why more does not reach the point of diminishing returns? I would agree with that too. We’ve seen the difference between TTOs that have lots of options right outside the door to call on and leverage when and how wanted without having specific requirements to maintain, as opposed to isolated offices with no good ecosystem for support. Interestingly though, we have also seen a lot of these “healthy” TTO locations not use those resources and in many cases not even know what they have available to them. Hopefully your article will help raise awareness so they become more engaged with their Hy-LIE.

    The intern programs we have been involved with have always had a much bigger local impact than just the “screening” service that the students deliver. I do think that TTO’s should take a more strategic perspective with some of their efforts to help “feed” the Hy-LIE whenever possible. Costs may not always be lower but long-term impact can be greater. This article on student run internship talks about this too: http://bit.ly/Qm4QVB.

    Mike Cohen • Laura, thanks for the link to the article on student-run internships. I agree that they can be useful. Moreover, UC Berkeley has taken this type of student-based evaluation process to the level of an academic class. Check-out the Cleantech to Market program: http://ei.haas.berkeley.edu/c2m/. I’m also working with other UC Berkeley faculty to create a similar class for technologies related to materials science and chemistry.

    A university Hy-LIE’s (external) resources that are applied to commercializing technologies don’t typically go beyond a point of diminishing return because they are largely market-driven, and therefore when a Hy-LIE has a critical mass of resources then they can be highly efficient in the commercialization process including: (1) product ideation, (2) vetting (and rejecting) technologies, teams, and business plans, as well as (3) incrementally funding, staffing and advising teams that show potential.

    This is relevant to your points about universities that have robust Hy-LIEs versus weak Hy-LIEs. Universities with robust Hy-LIEs (such as UC Berkeley) risk wasting their TTO resources by ignoring, under-utilizing or circumventing their Hy-LIE’s organic vetting processes.

    To be fair to universities that don’t have robust Hy-LIEs, they sometimes have no choice but to risk wasting TTO resources on trying to commercialize technologies — and that’s one of the many reasons why a robust Hy-LIE is a strategic asset for a university.