The How-To of Tech Transfer Metrics: Gathering, Analyzing, Communicating
Whether they are direct metrics or indirect metrics, collecting them takes time. So, it should be done strategically and meaningfully.
Be Careful What You Wish For
When setting goals/metrics for the TTO, ensure you’re motivating the right behavior. This might require you to tie together several metrics. For example, if the target is simply to increase the number of deals without a related metric tracking deal value, you’re going to wind up with a lot of deals that are not worth much.
Align Metrics with Goals
Keeping an eye on both the short term and the long term, track metrics that correspond to your organization’s goals. Be sure what you’re measuring progress in achieving goals rather than merely counting what can be counted.
Also track the metrics that will be most meaningful to your stakeholders. Not only will this make it easier to answer stakeholders’ frequently asked questions, but it will also help you demonstrate the TTO’s value.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Some metrics are best identified by going directly to the licensee or startup company working with your technology. This Technology Transfer Tactics article offers some excellent ideas for using templates to gather relevant data.
Make It Part of the Routine
Build the steps involved in collecting metrics into the TTO’s routine processes. Capturing the details as they occur during their daily tasks ensures staff won’t have to drop everything and frantically gather whatever they can track down when the higher-ups ask for information. They can just run a report. Of course, this assumes you…
Use a Good IP Management Database System
An effective IP management database gives you a place to store the metrics, and then it can generate useful reports with the click of a mouse. Take a look at this post by Fuentek’s Becky Stoughton for more on effective IP management databases.
Full disclosure: As discussed here, Fuentek used to rely on our own proprietary system, and now we use Wellspring Worldwide’s Sophia tool. These systems have been crucial to our success during the past 15 years.
Anecdotes: Not Every Metric Is a Number
Inventor/Licensee appreciation is difficult to quantify. So, let their words speak for you. Save emails with positive comments, putting the text and other relevant details in the database or a spreadsheet so you can find what you need when you need it.
In addition, prepare success stories that illustrate the benefits of the tech transfer program. If appropriate, you can send them to the media. But regardless, post them on your website. This is particularly important for stories with intangible benefits. For example, this success story explains how a new agreement will streamline future licensing of a technology.
So, once you have these data, here are some tips for making sense of them.
Normalize, Normalize, Normalize
Normalizing metrics is absolutely essential for any meaningful comparison over time and especially across organizations. Your numbers will be really off if your institution has only a fraction of the research expenditures or TTO staff compared to its “peers.” Even internal comparisons will be off if, say, you had a one-time monetization of a blockbuster license the year before. Normalizing controls for these differences.
As a single-parameter example, below is a chart using licensing survey data from AUTM for six universities that are often compared by their state legislature and university system administration. The teal bars are the total number of disclosures in a year, which shows Universities C, E, and F dramatically outpacing the other three. However, when we normalize invention disclosures relative to each institution’s research dollars, the universities with smaller research programs (Universities A, B, and D) are doing from very well to deficient, respectively, in capturing what innovations are created on their campuses. Of the universities with larger research programs, University C is performing very well, while Universities E and F could be doing better.
Fuentek has a metrics white paper with guidance on how to normalize dozens of tech transfer metrics.
Using and Communicating Metrics
There are a variety of ways to put the metrics to use. Here are some suggestions.
Drive Performance of Your Staff…
You might announce metrics annually, but review the metrics internally at least quarterly, or some of them even monthly. Doing so provides insights on how staff are performing and indicates whether the TTO is on track to meet the goals.
… But Don’t Go Overboard
Having said that, don’t forget that tech transfer takes time. The horizon is several years. So, the numbers may not match the goals as quickly as you’d like. Use a critical eye when you ask yourself: Are we doing everything right and we just need to be patient? Or are we not hitting our numbers because something is awry?
Stay Ahead of the Curve…
Regularly sharing your metrics helps you set stakeholder expectations and offer explanations in a positive manner. This allows you to be ahead of things (rather than reactive) when AUTM releases its annual licensing survey data.
… and Anticipate the Comparisons
If your TTO tends to get compared to a specific group of institutions, use your normalized metrics to point out relevant differences before the AUTM data comes out. Explain who your peers truly are when it comes to tech transfer… and why they’re not necessarily the same as, say, your basketball rivals.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
When you’re communicating your metrics message, identify the area(s) where you had success and make that your focal point. If you have bad news to deliver, put it in context. And remember to include the anecdotal success stories and “love letter” quotes.
Draw Them a Picture
An infographic can be a useful tool to convey metrics. It is particularly helpful when year-by-year data charts might be confusing or make the TTO’s accomplishments hard to recognize. Below is an excellent example from Emory University. Notice how Emory’s Startup Snapshot rolls up 30 years’ worth of data into impressive numbers — very well done!
Fuentek has spent years helping a wide range of TTOs evaluate, communicate, and elevate their performance metrics. Contact us today to discuss how Fuentek can help you.