TECH TRANSFER CONSULTANCY
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.

Marketing More than Technology: A Comprehensive Strategy for Tech Transfer Offices

Marketing More than Technology: A Comprehensive Strategy for Tech Transfer Offices

The tangible result of an effective marketing strategy may be a licensing deal, research collaboration, or any other metric that is important to a technology transfer office (TTO). There are also intangible benefits of broader marketing campaigns—demonstrating your tech transfer know-how. When successful, these marketing efforts can elevate the profile of your office and cultivate a productive relationship with your organization’s researchers, management, and potential partners/licensees.

To help TTOs be successful with their broader marketing efforts, this post shares the best practices that Fuentek has found to be effective time and again with our clients.

Start with the End in Mind

We recommend that you begin every marketing campaign by identifying the outcome you want to achieve. Then select the rest of the strategy that will help you reach that outcome. For example, if your desired outcome is to improve the quality of invention disclosures, offer inventor-focused training sessions that help researchers understand why a solid—and timely—invention disclosure is important. Also consider presenting to their department leaders to achieve top-down support from management.

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Use Your AMMO

At Fuentek, all marketing campaigns begin with the AMMO strategy for effective communication. We developed and have been applying the AMMO strategy with our clients for years. The AMMO sets up guidelines to ensure that you identify not only a target audience but also effective communication strategies to reach that audience. Check out this webcast to hear how the AMMO works.

Knowing what you are trying to accomplish also helps to evaluate how a marketing effort is progressing. For example, when hosting an event to market innovations to potential licensees, use market research to identify and invite the right people at the right companies. Then monitor signups and be prepared to reach out again, perhaps through different channels, if key targets have not registered.

Consider All of Your Audiences

Who is your audience, what do they care about, and where do you find them? These answers will guide your choices for the message and the mechanism to connect with them.

For example, potential licensees and collaborative R&D partners might respond to direct contact, while you may reach investors and legislators by speaking and exhibiting at conferences or publishing articles and white papers.

Don’t forget about your internal audiences. Newsletters are a great way to keep researchers, management, and administrators informed about your TTO’s activities and successes.

Craft Your Message and Mechanism to Match the Audience

I want to thank you again for sharing your thoughts on technology transfer with us. I can confidently speak for our board by saying that you helped us clarify our vision for [the TTO] and set some strategic initiatives.”

Frame your message in terms that will resonate with the audience. This is especially important when conveying TTO metrics to management. Year-by-year data charts might be confusing or make accomplishments hard to recognize. Using effective graphics and regularly sharing metrics help set expectations, allow you to identify and tout successes, and provide context if there is bad news to deliver.

Share Content Across Mechanisms

Whenever possible, communicate your message using more than one mechanism. The more you repeat your message, the more likely it is to sink in. With inreach to researchers, consider online training videos, formal and/or brown-bag presentations, newsletter articles, posters, etc.

Also, use what you have already developed in multiple ways. For example:

The reports went over really well… The board members liked them, and [management] was impressed as well.”

  • If you post content on your website, share it on social media as well, which then drives traffic to your website.
  • If you have several individual listings for related innovations, consider bundling the technologies for portfolio marketing.
  • Success stories posted on your website should find their way into annual reports and presentations.
  • Leverage all this content for awards applications, which are a great way to highlight accomplishments and boost your organization’s reputation.

Form Follows Function

A wealth of technology marketing tools is available these days. Whatever tools you choose, pay attention to quality. First impressions matter, so it’s worth investing the time and resources into producing effective and compelling marketing collateral.

A few tips:

I really, really appreciate all the counsel and support that made our exhibit much more effective and productive and also more meaningful than ever. Without your help, it definitely could not have been successful like this…. I’m honored and feel lucky to have a chance to work with you and Fuentek. Thank you.”

  • Webinars/Briefings: These are a cost-effective way to reach potential licensees and partners.
  • Online Listings: Invest in quality writers who can work collaboratively with engineers and scientists to prepare persuasive content.
  • Presentations: Whether it’s at a conference session or a board meeting, keep words per slide to a minimum.
  • Conference Displays: Increasing your presence at industry events can be a smart investment at significant commercialization turning points. Consider key sponsorship and branding opportunities and compelling booth designs to raise your profile.
  • Infographics: Since a picture is worth a thousand words, infographics can help you simplify a complicated subject or turn an otherwise boring topic into an attention-grabbing experience.

As the samples show, Fuentek has years of technology marketing and communications experience. Contact us to discuss how we can help with marketing not only your technologies but also your TTO.