Worth Reading: Spinoffs, Accelerators, University Impacts, and Women’s Tech Transfer Involvement
Despite the beautiful weather we’ve been enjoying here in North Carolina the last few weeks, I have frequently found myself online reading interesting posts about technology transfer. So here’s what I’ve been reading. How about you? Send me a private message or post a comment below.
Predicting Spinoff Success: This post from the New York Academy of Sciences magazine summarizes the findings of a study that examined factors of success among university spinoffs.
Not surprisingly, the study found that success in life sciences is more costly, is riskier, and takes longer to achieve, so it makes sense that fewer of those spinoffs are successful. In addition, researchers found that entrepreneurial networks should not be closed/internal systems, which is inevitable if they reside solely with the university. Instead, they should be part of a more regional ecosystem. This aligns well with what Mike Alvarez Cohen of UC-Berkeley’s Office of IP and Industry Research Alliances studied regarding hyper-local innovation ecosystems (Hy-LIEs), which I blogged about back in November. (Scroll down to see the discussion we had in the comments section of that post.)
Waiting for the Accelerator Bubble to Pop: This BusinessWeek article questions “whether accelerators are the cutting edge in launching innovative businesses or something more resembling college study abroad: a transformational experience for a few, an extended jaunt for the rest.” Patrick Clark’s report reminds me of when incubators were all the rage in the 1990s and early 2000s. As in the past, this oversaturation dissipates resources. Actually, it’s similar to what we’ve seen in the Triangle’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, which has a history of being divisive and therefore of creating inefficient silos.
The decrease in the quality of mentoring that Clark cites is a direct result of this. As accelerator programs proliferate, they can’t all have the best resources, and some will have to rely on third- and fourth-string people to support their programs. Then there’s the fact that the lackluster economy has created a lot of underemployed people that have designated themselves as “experts.” Put simply, more is not better. Market-based evaluation is still the key to selecting which startups merit attention, and the same philosophy should be applied to identifying the resources to support those opportunities.
University Global Health Impact Report Card: More than the report card site itself — which focuses on North American research universities’ performance in driving medical research for the world’s poorest populations and ensuring that licensing agreements are socially responsible — consider the commentary:
- “North American Universities Seen Failing To Promote Socially Responsible Licensing” at Intellectual Property Watch
- “Universities Get Middling Grades on Helping the Poor” from The New York Times
The criticisms of North American universities are not necessarily inaccurate, but it’s not a simple problem, and I’m quite sure that praising/shaming the schools is not the best way to solve it. Instead, I would point to organizations such as the TB Alliance. Formerly called the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, they are a perfect example of stakeholders recognizing the issue (i.e., better, faster-acting, affordable drugs to treat tuberculosis are needed), acknowledging the realities of each player’s role (i.e., universities can’t invest in further development and companies won’t without a market), and designing a creative public-private partnership solution. The model is a great example of solving the problem and could be applied to other areas of need.
Getting Women Tapped into Technology Transfer Activities: Longtime readers of our blog may recall our discussion about the article/study “How Universities Fail Women Inventors.” Well, AWIS (that’s the Association for Women in Science) has recently published a new report finding that “a gender gap persists with regard to technology transfer and entrepreneurial activity,” and it offers eight solutions to begin to deal with this issue. Interesting, this is in same vein as the book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg I heard about on NPR last month, although Sandberg examines a different aspect of the problem.
One call to action in the AWIS report is for AUTM® to gather metrics on gender and ethnicity “both in terms of members from the academic community that come to disclose a technology as well as in terms of the actual number of patents granted, technologies licensed to companies, and startups formed” and to be more proactive in helping their members reduce barriers for women in innovation.