TECH TRANSFER CONSULTANCY
University-Industry Engagement Outside Major Metro Areas: Workshop Insights

University-Industry Engagement Outside Major Metro Areas: Workshop Insights

What do Stanford, the University of Alabama, Arizona State, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have in common? They’re all in non-metropolitan areas. And that was the focus of the workshop I attended this week to present on communication strategies—including the AMMO—that maximize the impact from university-industry collaborations.

Hosted by UIDP and the University of Arkansas, the “U-I Engagement Outside Major Metropolitan Areas” workshop brought together a diverse collection of higher education institutions—from wealthy and poor areas, based in rural locations or close to cities. These universities face common as well as unique challenges.

The Fuentek-developed AMMO for communications initiatives focuses on Audience (identify the target audience), Message (refine the core message to match the audience), Mechanism (select the best tool(s) for conveying it to them), and Outcome (determine the call to action and metrics for assessing success). (Copyright 2019; Fuentek, LLC; all rights reserved)

Research Parks: What Makes Them Successful

For example, local economic development is a goal for all of the attendees. Similarly, all face challenges attracting and retaining good talent—at the university, in the community, and at companies. One frequently discussed tool for achieving these goals is research parks.

This begged the question: What helps a research park be successful? The answer is: It depends. The logic and ability of non-metro universities to establish a successful research park vary quite a bit, as do the challenges associated with attracting corporate research funding and partnerships.

One common theme that emerged was companies’ interest in having access to undergraduate students. While the assumption is that faculty and graduate students are the draw, it appears that a research park’s success increases when undergrads are there too.

I would agree, based on what I’ve seen at North Carolina State University. During its first several years, NCSU’s Centennial Campus grew very slowly. The turning point came when the engineering school was moved onto the research park campus. Having the students there created a vibrant atmosphere that attracted more companies. That energy has continued to grow as more dorms and restaurants open on the campus.

Live, Learn, Work, Play is a good catch phrase for all the elements needed for a successful research park.

Forming Sponsored Research Partnerships

I’d also like to share some insights for universities wanting to establish more industry partnerships, based on the discussions held during the conference.

Distinguish the Transactional from the Strategic

Some partnerships are complex and require concierge-level support. Others are more transactional, where concierge service would be an inefficient use of resources. By recognizing the difference, you avoid unnecessary over-investing. Give strategic partnerships priority on concierge services. At the same time, look for opportunities to expand an existing transactional relationship so that it can grow into a more strategic partnership.

Identify the Right Person to Lead the Relationship

When forming a new partnership, the concierge (or other point of contact) needs both a broad understanding of what the university has to offer plus a deep understanding of a research area that’s relevant to the company. In some cases, licensing managers in the university’s technology transfer office (TTO) may be an excellent choice, since they are already familiar with the research and the researchers in a specific area. But if you add this hat to the staff’s responsibilities, the performance metrics and compensation also need to shift.

Each institution has its own structure and staff have varying competencies, so identify the right solution for your organization. Part of that is selecting the person who can be an empowered and integrated resource for the partner.

Give Them the Training to Fill the Gaps

It is unlikely that each person you select as a concierge will have all of the background information on intellectual property (IP) and contracting and foundation funding, etc. Each concierge must have at least some basic knowledge of IP and all the agreement vehicles that may result from a strategic corporate relationship. So provide concierges with the training they need to engage partners effectively.

Incentivize Cooperation

As my colleague Danielle McCulloch blogged about here, an organizational structure that separates the TTO from the sponsored research office (SRO) and the university’s Foundation (and so on) can get in the way of establishing partnerships. If the different groups have different databases, it’s difficult to share information. Beyond the technical issues, turf issues can make offices disinclined to share—they want to own and control the relationship with the partner.

To help break those barriers, set the metrics and performance rewards to encourage cooperation. For example, allow the Foundation to get credit if it helps an engineering department secure sponsored research.

These types of changes are slowly happening. For example, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln established a hybrid bonus structure for the heads of the TTO, business development office, and alumni relations office. Only 25% of their bonus is based on their individual performance; the remaining 75% is tied to their collective performance. This all-boats-rise-together structure incentivizes them to help each other get the most value out of every partnership.

Entrepreneurship and University Startups

I also appreciated this excellent session that featured Louise Epstein from the Walton Family Foundation and Javier Reyes from West Virginia University. Here is my take on the discussion.

I-Corps: A Valuable Program

All universities should leverage the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps™ program. Its main focus is to train faculty to become entrepreneurial. This leads to a broader culture change within the university community, thanks to participants’ excitement and stories when it’s over. It also has some key side benefits:

  • I-Corps serves as a filter to reveal the viable startups, eliminating the need for TTO resources to do this vetting.
  • Because a business coach is required, I-Corps helps identify the startup’s CEO. (That person wouldn’t donate time without wanting to join the startup.)

Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Programs

These programs can be extremely useful for entrepreneurial faculty, who usually want (and need) someone to guide them one-on-one through the startup process. When identifying the entrepreneurial mentors, look beyond business school faculty, especially if they don’t have business experience and haven’t been part of a startup. (Real-world experience is essential.) Instead, look for past CEOs and business people in your community. In particular, look for those who were successful and have retired.

How to Secure VC and Angel Funding

Times have changed for venture capital. Unlike in the past when you needed VCs to be located near you, money is more mobile and you can go to them. However, VC and angel funding will come in only if the technology and business plan are compelling. When faculty entrepreneurs complain about a lack of VC money, it’s more likely that they need support to create a good opportunity that VCs want to invest in.

BTW, alumni are a valuable resource for VC and angel funding. Non-metro universities can best connect with them by attending alumni events in big cities. When you meet with them there, invite them to visit campus and bring money back to the university that served them well.

Another insightful observation from the attendees was that VC money is not always in the community’s best interest. A VC’s goal is for the startup to be acquired as quickly as possible, yielding a profit at the exit. But what impact will that acquisition have on the region? Will those jobs be moved to the parent company’s location? The VC deal celebrated at its signing may be lamented a year later when those high-tech, high-income people leave town. That kind of brain drain is counterproductive to the economic development goal. So don’t assume it is always best to chase after VC funding for a startup.

5 Tips for Boosting University Startup Metrics

1. “Releasing” the TTO from revenue-generating metrics can boost the number of startups, since licensing to startups doesn’t generate revenue. (As I’ve noted before when it comes to TTO metrics, the “lots of startups” and “lots of revenue” metrics are diametrically opposed.)

2. Promotion and tenure (P&T) decisions that reward commercialization efforts can help incentivize faculty participation in startups and licensing. But don’t think that the policy sets the culture on this one—it just enables it. Changing P&T committee behavior is a whole different challenge, that’s beyond the scope of the meeting or this blog post.

3. Ask inventors to verbalize the impact of their discovery, which helps them envision the level of commitment they have to pursuing it further. This advice aligned nicely with the communication talk I gave during the workshop.

4. When the TTO sends its technology managers out as scouts—attending department seminars and then exploring potential applications with the researcher when they hear something interesting—this increases invention disclosures and helps identify potential startups.

5. If you want greater diversity and more women among your institution’s inventors and entrepreneurs, then proactively and visibly say so. To help make that goal a reality, connect with the AUTM Foundation’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative.

A Well-Run Workshop

I’d like to end by offering my compliments to UIDP’s president Tony Boccanfuso. The entire meeting was very well run. Particularly helpful were the report-outs summarizing each session at the end of each day, allowing people to hear the insights from concurrent workshops they couldn’t attend. And kudos to our Fayetteville hosts at the University of Arkansas. Last night’s reception at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art was lovely.

Wednesday evening’s reception for the UIDP–University of Arkansas workshop was held at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Copyright 2019; Fuentek, LLC; all rights reserved)

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Advice for Running an Effective Gap Funding Program

Advice for Running an Effective Gap Funding Program

I was recently chatting with folks in the technology transfer office (TTO) at the University of Vermont (UVM). They asked Fuentek to help again this year with evaluating proposals for the SPARK-VT gap funding program. SPARK-VT is designed “to address the challenges of translating novel research into the community” by funding additional research and commercialization.

Last year, Fuentek was asked to help evaluate proposals. We provided comprehensive written assessments of each innovation’s market potential. We also commented on whether the advances proposed by the principal investigator (PI) would help move the technology forward to the next step in commercialization.

I’m happy to say that UVM found Fuentek’s reports useful. The SPARK-VT judging panel—composed of experts from the legal, technology, pharmaceutical, regulatory, and venture capital sectors—used them as a factor in scoring the proposals. The PIs also used them to finalize their proposal presentations and generally move forward more successfully with the additional knowledge we provided about the commercial landscape.

 

“De-Risking” Technology for Commercialization

Gap funding programs like SPARK-VT’s can greatly contribute to technology transfer success. Why? Because they can play a major role in “de-risking” technologies sufficiently to attract licensee interest. This is especially true when they fund activities that help answer key commercialization questions. For example:

  • Building a workable prototype answers the Does it really work? question.
  • Testing actual performance—especially in areas most important to establish commercial viability (i.e., address industry pain points)—answers the How does it compare? question.

Gap funding programs are ideal when technologies are too early in their development to attract a licensee and too far along for the basic research funding universities typically access.

Today I’d like to share with you my insights about how to run an effective gap funding program.

 

Take an Impact-Based Focus

Focus on technologies that have the potential to advance rapidly into a commercialization pathway. Proposals should identify specific tasks that move the technology towards a commercial application. Require that funds be applied only to those tasks and that selected projects meet milestones and metrics to demonstrate steady progress.

 

Establish IP-Specific Eligibility Requirements

Ensure that technologies not owned by your institution are identified—and eliminated—early in the process. For example, SPARK-VT requires potential applicants an opportunity to contact the TTO before developing their proposals to determine the technology’s intellectual property (IP) status.

 

Promote the Program to PIs

No one wants to throw a party and have no one show up. So, be sure to let potential participants know about the program. Beyond including it on your website, consider promoting the gap funding program via the institution’s communications channels, social media, and/or presentations/flyers to research departments.

 

Help PIs Prepare to Apply

Providing appropriate support to applicants helps ensure you will have high-quality proposals from which to choose the best projects. Here are some suggestions:

  • Announce the evaluation criteria: Letting PIs know the evaluation criteria gives them a target to shoot for
  • Give them a structure: Providing an outline with reasonable requirements jump-starts a PI’s proposal development effort and facilitates apples-to-apples comparison of proposals that all include relevant information.
  • Educate them about technology commercialization: For example, SPARK-VT requires applicants to attend—or watch webinar recordings for—a series of lectures on commercialization topics. (Check out these Fuentek insights on educating researchers.)
  • Give them a chance to improve: Provide written feedback on their proposals so that PIs can do better if reapplying next year. Better yet, have a gated application process and provide feedback along the way. As applicants progress to the next stage, their proposals will get stronger and stronger.

Speaking of which…

 

Evaluate Proposals in Phases

Structure the process to start small and then require increasing levels of effort by PIs as they pass each stage. Pre-screen the initial submissions to identify (and eliminate) any proposals with red flags or that do not have an impact on advancing the technology toward commercialization.

 

Carefully Select the Judges

Structure the panel of evaluators according to your goals for the program. A diverse panel of industry experts can provide broad viewpoints and might be able to provide valuable connections for the PIs of the selected proposals. Alternatively, a focused panel of commercialization experts is poised to apply the evaluation criteria fairly, transparently, and consistently. To get the best of both worlds, take SPARK-VT’s approach, which leveraged Fuentek and industry evaluators.

 

Monitor PI Progress

Selecting proposals to fund marks the start of the next chapter in gap funding. Protect your investment by following up and monitoring the milestones. Build regular check-ins into the project schedule, encouraging PIs to report on not only their progress but also the challenges they are facing. Provide input and advice, possibly leveraging the industry experts who originally evaluated the proposals.

 

Provide Ongoing Support

Whenever possible help the PIs follow through on the next step, connecting them with resources. Your TTO might be able to, for example, introduce the PI to a contract research organization (CRO) to screen the compounds or watch for the management resources a PI will need as efforts progress toward a startup.

We’re thrilled that UVM found Fuentek’s support so valuable to the SPARK-VT program, and we look forward to participating again this coming year. If you want to get more bang from your gap-funding buck, contact us to discuss how Fuentek can support your program with project-specific market assessments and strategic solutions.

Managing Intellectual Property Proactively, Efficiently, and Effectively

Managing Intellectual Property Proactively, Efficiently, and Effectively

Proactive management of intellectual property (IP) is essential for any R&D organization. Being proactive leads to better, more thoughtful decisions about patenting, resource allocation, and other strategic choices. It also helps you focus on achieving your IP goals rather than reactively putting out fires.

Fuentek has helped scores of technology transfer offices (TTOs) and other clients achieve IP management successes. Here are some of those best practices that can make your TTO or other IP operation more proactive, efficient, and effective.

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Prioritize the IP Portfolio

If it has been a while since you reviewed the IP portfolio, analyze it now and prioritize what you have. This lets you focus resources on the innovations with the greatest potential for success. Prioritizing and optimizing the IP portfolio has other benefits as well, especially when there is a backlog of innovations awaiting a disposition decision.

Fuentek studied the entire portfolio and determined the strengths and weaknesses. With this insight, our team has a better understanding of the processes needed to increase the value of the portfolio.”

It can be hard to make time to analyze and prioritize your portfolio, especially when your office staff are overwhelmed with cases. Yet, that is exactly when it is most important to take a strategic look at what you have that’s valuable… and what’s not.

To help address this, Fuentek provides Portfolio Optimization and Prioritization as a service. We have achieved excellent results for our clients (example) and we have several efforts currently underway using our newest techniques. We also have shared our insights on tackling the IP portfolio in blog posts and webinars for companies, universities, and other R&D organizations.

Consider the Market When Evaluating a Technology

When it comes to an innovation’s commercialization potential, the market’s need for it is as important as (if not more than) its technological advantages and whether the IP can be protected. So, before filing for a patent, proactively screen the technology for its market fit.

The report is brilliant! Fuentek has certainly taken technology assessment reports to a whole new level of thoroughness, accessibility and overall usefulness.”

When a technology does fit the market, dig deeper with more research as you ramp up to marketing. Then leverage this information to plan an effective strategy for securing licenses or an industry partner to sponsor/collaborate on further R&D.

For more specific advice, check out our webcasts and blog posts on technology evaluation and strategy development.

How to Pursue Marketing Strategically

I am especially pleased with how Fuentek has reached out to industry, making contacts with prospective licensees and doing such an excellent job at marketing our technologies.”

Proactively identifying and connecting with qualified prospects interested in a technology isn’t a simple task. However, we have found several techniques consistently create the opportunity to find and cultivate strong leads for licenses or collaborative/sponsored R&D. Here’s just a small sampling of Fuentek’s recommendations for active marketing projects:

  • Develop effective marketing collateral by thinking through the AMMO (audience, message, mechanism, and outcome).
  • Write engaging online listings for every technology that’s available for license.
  • If the innovation is of interest to a market with lots of players, host a webinar-based technology briefing.
  • If the innovation has broad market potential, prioritize your targets.
  • Be realistic about the technology and its market potential so you know when to push.

You can read more Fuentek insights on marketing technologies or check out our free webinar on effective technology marketing.

Tips for Standardized and Negotiated Deals

Once the qualified leads have arrived at the negotiating table, it’s time to make a deal. Whether you offer a no-negotiation express license or are working out the details for royalty rates and non-financial terms, it is important to be informed and thoughtful. Here is what Fuentek suggests:

  • Have prospects submit license applications in phases, which expedites negotiations.
  • Always do your due diligence on license applicants (see slide graphic below).
  • Use multiple deal valuation techniques to find a valuation convergence range to ensure you’re setting a reasonable royalty rate.
  • If your goal is to increase royalty revenue or create jobs, focus on licensing to well-established, small-to-medium enterprises rather than to startups.
  • Take a creative approach when constructing offers and counter-offers.

All of this guidance is based on Fuentek’s experience working with more than 4,000 technologies from a wide range of R&D clients. Contact us today to discuss how you can benefit firsthand from this expertise. We can train your professional staff and/or interns or provide direct support from our highly experienced team utilizing our cutting-edge approaches.

How to Economically and Efficiently Source Technology for Your Company

How to Economically and Efficiently Source Technology for Your Company

Whether you want to improve your own business or introduce a new product or service line, technology/innovation is usually a major part of the solution. With all of the R&D at universities and government labs, it’s not always necessary to start from scratch to create that new solution or improvement. In fact, it’s best to always start by looking outside your company using open innovation—or better yet, Symbiotic Innovation—tactics.

Sourcing technology from universities and government labs can be a complex task. In our years of working with companies and with R&D organizations, Fuentek has seen both sides of the coin.

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One of the challenges is balancing the needs and timelines of businesses with the priorities of inventors and their institutions. So, we have developed strategies to help companies effectively acquire valuable intellectual property (IP) and reduce the risks inherent in pursuing early-stage R&D.

Licensing Technology

The task of finding technologies available from universities and government labs has gotten easier in recent years with online databases and intelligent search engines. While it still takes more time than an online shopping trip for LEGOs (my personal favorite pastime), new resources facilitate the search:

  • AUTM’s Innovation Marketplace is the largest portal of university technologies available for licensing.
  • Flintbox.com is a portal for technologies, creative works, and course materials that connects research organizations and industry.
  • Many other resources are available in this article from Intellectual Asset Management magazine.

The patent suite that you helped us to acquire is a central asset to our firm as we move forward in setting up manufacturing operations. Fuentek helped us to better understand the portfolio, and what would be necessary to reach mutually beneficial deal terms.”

Then comes the negotiations. And here, things are trickier because it’s not just financial terms at play. Also up for discussion are exclusivity, research funds, inventor input, access to equipment… the list goes on. Careful negotiations can help you successfully cross the tech transfer chasm.

Sponsoring Research

Sponsoring research another tactic that can help your company secure innovation while it’s still in development. University research labs are often seeking industry funding to advance early-stage technologies. The benefit: You can help ensure that the R&D proceeds in a direction that aligns with your company’s needs, and you may also get first right of refusal to the resulting IP.

Here are a few things to look out for when it comes to sponsoring research at a university:

  • Know the IRS rules for pre-negotiating IP licenses with U.S. public universities.
  • Be aware that the perspectives that R&D organizations have toward innovation can be very different from business stakeholders.
  • Many universities have sponsored research staff working separately from the licensing team (although that seems to be changing), which creates an extra layer in the negotiations process.
  • Think early on about IP ownership options, from shared IP ownership to exclusive licensing—and many options in between.

The Government Version of Sponsored Research

U.S. government labs offer a unique approach to sponsored research–type cooperation with industry. Because a government lab’s research must align with its mission, the R&D you’re interested in will have to align as well. But there are plenty of cases where a company’s interests and the government’s interests are a match. For example, your company may have skills, facilities, and knowledge to bring to the table that the government needs. For more information, check out this webinar.

Long-Term Collaborations for Ongoing R&D

Still another tactic—and one that can pay off well into the future—is establishing an ongoing R&D collaboration with a university or government lab whose research is compatible with your long-term as well as short-term needs. The benefits of such a relationship are invaluable:

  • Efficiencies of Scale: Having a long-term master agreement streamlines launching follow-on efforts instead of pouring resources into a one-off project.
  • Symbiotic Innovation Can Flourish: The lab can benefit from your company’s skills, resources, and insight while you can acquire IP and know-how from the research organization.
  • Reduced Risk: These collaborations are much less risky than mergers and acquisitions.
  • A Testing Ground for Future Employees: You will be in an ideal position to attract top talent from your university partner’s graduate and Ph.D. programs.

As in any long-term relationship, you’ll need to set roles and responsibilities; scopes of work; and dates to revisit, revise, and recommit. But this up-front investment is worth it in the long run.

To sum up: Sourcing technology from government and university labs can benefit your company and your business goals. But the pathways into these organization and the relationships that ensue can be complex. With more than 15 years of work with these organizations, Fuentek can help companies find labs that are of most value to them and help set the ball in motion for success. Contact us to learn more.

Strengthening Your Strengths, Solving Your Struggles with Strategic Solutions

Strengthening Your Strengths, Solving Your Struggles with Strategic Solutions

In providing technology transfer services to R&D organizations, Fuentek has developed strategies for maximizing team strengths and skills, solving organizational pickles, and communicating value to leadership. Today’s post shares these insights, which can help significantly improve your tech transfer capabilities and performance.

Determine Where You Are and Where You Want to Be

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The adage “knowledge is power” could not be truer when it comes to understanding how your IP management team is performing. To this end, metrics are your greatest ally: They will help you get where you want to go by accurately revealing where you are.

Fuentek worked tirelessly to help us set goals and raise the bar by benchmarking our university against peer and aspirant schools.”

Ah, metrics. They can be a tricky lot to gather. One reason is because useful metrics extend the full length of the tech transfer pipeline. Important early-stage measures, such as the quality of invention disclosures, foreshadow success in post-deal numbers. Weak metrics early on can signal the need to shift priorities to improve outcomes down the road.

And that’s just the direct metrics. There are indirect metrics, too. Tracking things like startup success and other ways your organization contributes to sponsored research and economic development are all important measures of your impact.

Of course, collecting these metrics takes time—a well-constructed database helps—and it should be done strategically and meaningfully. Once you have them identified, make metrics part of your ongoing processes and procedures so that they will work for you. Here’s how.

Additionally, balancing the metrics with tactful interviews of key stakeholders—from staff to inventors to management—also adds depth and insights into the analysis and recommendations.

Nurture Talent from Within and from the Start

Out-besting your best does not necessarily mean hiring significant numbers of new staff. We’ve developed some tactics to proactively build up your team from the inside and invest in the future:

Tremendous entrepreneurship training with Fuentek. It will help me a lot in clarifying my ideas!”

  • Tech Transfer Staff: Onsite and virtual training tailored specifically to technology transfer professionals can add significant value and capabilities to the people you have already invested in. And with tight budgets and growing expectations, it’s time and resources well spent.
  • Innovators: Your success hinges on researchers keeping the tech transfer process in mind from the first lightbulb. Teach your entrepreneurial researchers about tech transfer tools to increase their chances for success. Even those who don’t want to launch a startup benefit from tech transfer training, so cultivate relationships with those researchers as well.
  • Interns: As you identify areas where you could use more staff, consider implementing an internship program. Having graduate students conduct market research helps free up your professional staff for other tasks. Just remember to pull the pros in for industry interviews.

Communicate Your Value—and What You Need—to Leadership

The tech transfer road is long and often winding. Making sure senior management understand this timeline can help set expectations appropriately. Also, give them insight into the resources needed at each bend in the road.

This report will be very powerful in helping us engage key stakeholders to make necessary changes. It will also serve as an excellent short-term and long-term road map.”

It’s also important to develop strategies for successful and positive interactions with leadership. Those metrics we talked about earlier? They may require a lot of data gathering, but the good news is that they will help you more thoroughly demonstrate the depth and breadth of your team’s value and where you may need support for growth if you communicate them effectively. Professional-looking presentations and publications can help you do just that—they can be just as effective with your own leaders as they are with potential partners and licensees.

Be Willing to Make Big Changes

Thanks to the services provided by the Fuentek team, our tech transfer program has greatly improved and expanded over the past 3 years.”

At some stage, broad organizational improvements may be needed. Sometimes a reboot is necessary. Sometimes your processes and procedures need streamlining, and this investment will pay off with time and resource savings down the road. We’ve posted lots of our insights on how technology transfer offices become more efficient.

Fuentek can put all of these insights to work for you, with our action-oriented, holistic approach. Our experienced team can help you set these strategies in motion. And if you like, we can implement their full execution. Get in touch today to discuss how Fuentek’s services and expertise can be an extension of your own team.