AUTM Insight, V1, Issue #20
December 4, 2019
The Center for Technology Venture & Commercialization
The University of Utah – Mary Albertson, Director of Commercialization
What makes your research institution different than the rest?
The University of Utah, with over 80 centers and institutes, nearly one million square feet of research space, and research funding approaching $550M in FY2019, was recently named to the Association of American Universities (AAU). Among the many standouts is the organization’s department of Biochemistry ranked in the top 10 for National Institutes of Health funding and the School of Medicine, ranked in the top 40 in its category. The results of these research capabilities and efforts included over 200 invention disclosures and 56 patents.
On behalf of the University of Utah, the Center for Technology Venture & Commercialization (TVC) serves as a catalyst for the regional ecosystem. TVC is responsible for all aspects of invention management, patent prosecution, licensing, start-up formation and support, equity management and early-stage funding. As one of the oldest such offices in the country (founded in 1965), TVC has established a reputation for leadership in technology commercialization. Since its launch in 1965, TVC has received over 1,500 patents, licensed over 700 technologies and returned nearly $300M to the University.
Over the last several years TVC has shifted away from a transactional approach to business toward one based on relationships. In an effort to serve its customer, the licensee, better, TVC turned its focus inward toward the source of its product and emphasized building deeper, stronger, more trusted relationships with inventors. Their great minds and passionate research are constantly generating innovative ideas, but those ideas often need additional time and resources before they can be licensed successfully. So TVC created several new programs to facilitate technology development and start-up creation in a patient, measured way. It believes this new approach will actually increase operational efficiency and speed the time to market in the long run.
From the earliest phase of assessing the commercial potential of research through the growth stages of a start-up, TVC is taking the long view with inventors and entrepreneurs. That’s why it created StartUp 360, a program that provides comprehensive, wrap-around support services to inventors and entrepreneurs as they conduct and bring research to life. StartUp 360 begins and ends with partnerships. For example, TVC created multiple “-in-Residence” tracks, including Executives, Entrepreneurs, and Mentors. TVC draws its residents from business, industry, health care, finance, and start-ups. They ask the questions, develop the relationships, and lend their expertise to TVC, U inventors, and each other along the full continuum of innovation to market. Some are looking for their next gig, others are looking to keep their skills fresh, but all want to give back. One mid-career PI summarized their contribution this way. “I knew what I wanted, but they helped me understand what the value of my work would be outside the lab. If it never left my lab, the value of my work would be lost. Now I understand how that happened earlier in my career.” Another commented, “There simply is no replacement for experience.” StartUp 360 also includes a vendor network that spans from marketing professionals to regulator experts to lawyers and accountants. TVC built the network from the ground up based on two considerations—trust and experience. StartUp 360 vendors must demonstrate past success working with start-ups and they must be conflict-free. They cannot have business ties to TVC, nor can they take equity in TVC start-ups. Commented one entrepreneur-in-residence who licensed multiple technologies for his start-up, “I know they are acting in the best long-term interest of their client, me. That goes a long way toward establishing trust.”
What’s on the horizon?
Despite years of success commercializing technology, in some ways, TVC is just hitting its stride. TVC’s focus on trusted relationships and long-term partnerships has opened new engagement opportunities throughout the innovation to market continuum. In many cases, markets and entrepreneurs move too quickly to wait while inventors apply for grants. So TVC recently launched its Pioneer Grant program. When PIs and-in-Residence participants identify hot innovations with demonstrated market potential, working in partnership, they can apply for small grants, deployed quickly to “get their research over the mountain.” Physical infrastructure for start-ups is another area where TVC is being called upon to move the needle. In partnership with Recursion, a successful TVC startup launched this decade, TVC expects to launch an incubator for life sciences and technology startups in early 2020. Housed in a 14,500 square foot facility, 5,000 square feet of which is wet lab space, the incubator will give preference to university start-ups and will encourage applications from start-ups lead by historically underrepresented founders.
While TVC has made significant shifts in its approach to commercialization, we continue to strive to expand our impact. Stay tuned!