Fuentek's Tech Transfer Blog

Training Takes the Lead, but Comments Shed More Light in Latest Poll

Update: We posted a follow-up to this several weeks later with even more ideas for inspiring innovators.

Our latest poll asked the question: What does your tech transfer office (TTO) find to be the most effective way to encourage innovator participation in tech transfer?

As you can see by the chart, more than two-fifths of respondents said training was their most important tool. And as regular readers of our blog know, we agree. Training sessions we’ve provided to researchers on the basics of tech transfer as well as open innovation topics have done wonders to help TTOs connect with innovators. A recent session at NASA’s Glenn Research Center ended with several attendees requesting copies of the slides to share with others in their branch and asking to attend a follow-on “brown bag” session where they’ll have a chance for some one-on-one time with tech transfer staff. It’s too early to have hard-data results for Glenn, but we have seen measurable results with other clients. Take a look at the line graph below. It shows the number of invention disclosures/reports filed over time at a federal lab’s TTO where we did innovator training in July of 2008 and 2009. Given the data, I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to training, the equation is: Education + Inspiration = Participation. But…

That’s not the whole story, as illustrated by the discussions on LinkedIn® group for the Licensing Executives Society and comments sent via the Fuentek Web site.

Comment: “I suspect it is a combination of initiatives that are required to encourage the engagement of innovators in Tech Transfer. All of these initiatives work to establish a culture of innovation/commercialization on campus and make it easy for business interests to plug into university Tech Transfer activities.

Fuentek’s experience has shown that this is true. Even where our training seemed to have the impact graphed above, this was part of a variety of “in-reach” initiatives to connect with innovators, including newsletters, table-top displays in the cafeteria, and other touch-points. Although invention filings spiked after the July trainings, it could be that the spikes wouldn’t have been as high without the other efforts.

Comment: “The best way to encourage innovators to participate in tech transfer is demonstrate success.”

An excellent point. Without proof of success, it’s hard to convince innovators that it’s worth their time to participate. At Fuentek, we’ve found that good ways to convey these successes are in stand-alone success story sheets, brochures, and even videos. And, of course, discussing the success stories in trainings and other presentations goes without saying. (Oh… I guess I just said it! ☺)

Comment: “Providing them the means to derive personal gain from this process [of innovation] – whether it be in the form of personal satisfaction, a patent, a commercialized product, cash, stock, public recognition, additional research funding, publications, etc. – differs by innovator, idea, and deal…. If the innovator doesn’t have an incentive matched to his/her needs, if s/he has uncertainty about how an idea will be developed or funded, or what is fair value under the circumstances – there is inaction. Removing uncertainty is paramount to increasing participation.”

Comment: “What would count would be:
1- Money (various options: lump sum, royalties, equity….)
 and/or 2- A degree of control on how the technology is used/deployed/further developed/ downstream (various options again: managerial post, etc.)”

Both of these are good points. Some innovators are driven by awards for the recognition, prize money, or both. But we definitely have seen that incentives vary from innovator to innovator. Messages given to a wide audience (via training sessions or brochures) can discuss the various incentives to help researchers take that first step of reporting their innovation. Then you have the chance to interact with them individually and see what makes them tick. Which brings us to our next comment.

Comment: “I have found that the personal touch is key.… I walk into these meetings as a chance to learn and I leave letting the innovator know that it is my intent to help their (infant, toddler, child, adolescent, …) technology grow up, make it into a good college, and be successful.”

An excellent point and a nice metaphor! ☺

One additional item that came through in the comments was a link to the University of Georgia’s “Start-Ups for Smarties.” This program of seminars as well as a super-informative manual (look for the primer under “Resources”) appears to be an excellent way to show how seriously the institution approaches commercialization of good science. Thanks to UGA’s Chris Moder for pointing it out!