Tracking Tech Transfer’s Indirect Metrics

Tech transfer is like billiards: Indirect shots can still score points.

As Laura Schoppe noted in her post about the key direct metrics for technology transfer offices (TTOs), there are important indirect metrics to track as well. These are factors that the TTO can influence, but others have more control over the ultimate outcome. Some feed into the early stages of the tech transfer pipeline in terms of the quantity and quality of invention disclosures. These indirect metrics also relate to economic development, which seems to be growing in importance every year.

So, today’s post outlines the indirect metrics that are appropriate for various TTOs. In selecting the ones to track for your TTO, choose those that align with the organization’s goals.

Don’t Forget Qualitative Measures

In addition to the number-based metrics specified here, be sure to capture any qualitative measures of your indirect impact. Whether you write it up in a detailed success story or quote an appreciative email, save the examples as anecdotal evidence of the TTO’s value. (More on this in a future post.)

Startup Success

Startups are the ultimate indirect metric for a TTO. Sure, licensing a technology to a startup is a direct metric. However, once that deal is signed, the TTO doesn’t have much influence over whether the startup is successful.

But as I noted in a recent Technology Transfer Tactics article, the TTO helps plant the seed of that company. Therefore, the TTO contributed to the growth of that company. And that growth is worth tracking.

So, consider the long-run, cumulative capture of these indirect metrics related to startup success:

  • Number of products/services involving licensed technology
  • Number of startups that introduced a product/service to market
    • Also track as a percentage of all startups
  • Number of startups still “alive” and generating revenue after 5 years
    • Also track as a percentage of all startups
  • Number of startups that secured additional funding (e.g., SBIR, VC, IPO, acquisition)
    • Also track the dollar value as well as the type of that funding
  • Data regarding sales, revenues, and/or employment for startups, regardless of connection to licensed technology (Remember: You helped plant the seed.)

If any startups come back to the university later to establish sponsored research agreements (SRAs), be sure to track these quantity and dollar-value metrics, linking them to their appropriate TTO origins.

Industry Funding

In addition to the various ways that TTOs are directly involved in cultivating and securing SRAs, they can also indirectly influence efforts led by faculty researchers. That impact can be measured with such indirect metrics as:

  • Number of technology evaluations that provide broader market data to inform researcher’s ongoing work
  • Number of new introductions between researchers and companies with relevant interests
  • Number of SRAs with TTO-identified companies
  • Total dollars secured via these SRAs

In addition, these companies may eventually go on to license the technology and may even launch new products/services related to their SRA. Track these metrics and link them to their TTO origins.

Government Research Funding

Some government grant proposals require a section on commercialization potential and approach. TTO support to researchers can be invaluable here, so tracking TTO efforts and results is important. Use these metrics:

  • Total number of TTO-supported proposals
  • Percentage of these proposals that resulted in funding
  • Total dollars secured

Faculty Recruitment and Engagement

Several of our university clients say they have seen an increase in researcher interest in their institution’s tech transfer capabilities and policies during the interview stage. (In fact, we had one researcher tell us he almost didn’t join the university because of the low royalty percentage awarded to faculty.) Some universities offer faculty candidates the opportunity to meet with TTO executives as part of the recruitment process — an important indirect metric.

Similarly, new faculty researchers need information about how to work with the TTO effectively. This interaction starts as part of the onboarding process and continues on an ongoing basis. Ideally, when these faculty have an invention or are about to publish on something with commercial potential, they will know exactly what to do.

Given the far-reaching (albeit indirect) influence of the TTO’s operations and policies, track the following metrics:

  • Number of interactions/interviews with candidates
  • Percentage of these candidates who join the university’s faculty
  • Number of new faculty contacted by TTO
  • Number of faculty attending TTO meetings/training sessions
  • Percentage of these who submit an invention disclosure within 5 years

Note: TTOs are typically not informed when new faculty join the university. So, develop a good relationship with your institution’s human resources (HR) department to become part of the notification process. Then you can engage with faculty during their transition.

Regional Innovation Ecosystem Development

When I was at the University of Texas at Dallas, we actively interacted with several regional organizations to enhance the innovation ecosystem. If your TTO engages in this type of community outreach — be it with incubators, associations, investors, or even the TTO’s partners within the institution (e.g., Office of Industry Relations) — these are the metrics to track:

  • Number of relevant points of contacts in the networking database
  • Number of TTO-initiated outreach contacts
  • Number of relevant events/meetings attended by TTO staff
  • Engagement with TTO outreach efforts — for example:
    • Number of subscribers to a newsletter
    • Open/Click rates for mass e-mails

Tracking these outreach metrics will be especially helpful if they eventually lead to licenses, SRAs, partnerships, or other noteworthy successes.

Looking Ahead to a How-To Post

Because it takes time, collecting and analyzing metrics should be done strategically and meaningfully. Furthermore, some of the metrics outlined here are not easy to collect. So, our next post will discuss best practices for collecting, analyzing, and using metrics to communicate with stakeholders. Watch for it here or subscribe to the Fuentek blog.

In the meantime, check out our white paper on establishing useful tech transfer metrics. And feel free to contact us to discuss how Fuentek can help your TTO with effective metrics tracking.

Posted by Rebecca Stoughton

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