TECH TRANSFER CONSULTANCY
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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.