Over time new leadership, reorgs/reboots, rapid expansions, or new priorities can result in the need to take stock of where you are, where you are headed, and how to get there. For university Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), a review of performance, structure, and functions—particularly in comparison to peer organizations—provides the opportunity to optimize internal operations, enhance engagement with internal and external customers (e.g., inventors and industry) and stakeholders (e.g., administration, board of directors, legislators), and revise policies and procedures to better align with current goals.
Tracking data metrics is one way to accomplish key goals as well as prepare for future opportunities to offer input on economic development, technology development, and more. AUTM’s Statistics Access for Technology Transfer (STATT) database is a great starting place for gathering critical information helpful for beginning a review. The STATT online tool is particularly useful for sifting through a myriad of data on licensing activity, startups, funding, royalties, and more to help TTOs evaluate program effectiveness.
But not all universities are equal in terms of research expenditures, staffing levels, and other metrics helpful in determining program effectiveness. For this kind of targeted comparison, we recommend that universities determine a reasonable and comparable data set to help benchmark performance against not only the AUTM pool but also a subset of peer institutions. Such peer group comparisons are much more helpful for measuring and benchmarking a host of key parameters.
Normalize Data for Meaningful Comparisons
So how to determine similarity? A key measure is research expenditures because funding drives innovation, aka invention disclosures. For a practical comparison, both funding levels and sources need to be comparable. It’s not useful to compare a university that brings in $50 million in research funding with another that scores $1 billion because the resources available do not scale linearly. Additionally, separating institutions with medical schools from those without is important since the size and number of licensing deals tend to be disparate.
Any meaningful comparison of TTO performance requires normalizing data to ensure consistent and appropriate comparisons. We look at data ratios to understand performance. For example, two universities can be considered peers—even though one has $100 million in research expenditures while the other has $200 million—but it would not be reasonable to expect them to have the same number of invention disclosures. By normalizing the number of invention disclosures and other parameters with research expenditures it’s possible to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of operations.
For example, in the above graphic, the institution is innovating and disclosing inventions at a similar rate to its peers, but it clearly has less staff in the TTO to enable commercialization. The administration may view this information with pride that the TTO is very efficient (is doing more with less). However, the analysis of the licensing data in the graphic below shows that the staff is likely overwhelmed with processing inventions and unable to dedicate time to marketing the technologies and executing licenses.
Our normalization approach allows universities to use AUTM’s STATT data to analyze performance.
Results Aid Planning and Advocacy
In addition to staffing and licensing, we look at many other parameters to identify strengths and vulnerabilities in areas such as funding, patenting, startups, and department/college participation. This kind of data analysis into past and current performances helps TTOs pinpoint where they need to augment or trim down staffing, adjust patent reimbursement licensing policies, set realistic metrics, and other actions to streamline operations. And for universities that are setting lofty research goals (think new university president that announces 2030 road map), these measures can also provide TTOs with the ammunition they need to convince administrators they require more resources if they are expected to help the institution attain new objectives—or maybe even help them understand the reality of the math 😊.
We have lots of experience helping university clients evaluate data, develop strategies, and present the findings to top administrators (sometimes an outsider needs to be the one to show what you already know). If you aren’t into delving into excel spreadsheets while quarantined at home, get in touch and we can do it for you.