Tech transfer initiatives at regional universities are making a huge impact on our innovation economy
Universities are where groundbreaking discoveries happen. From Google, the barcode, and Gatorade to the polio vaccine, research at universities plays a critical role in improving the world around us.
Flyover Future spoke to an amazing group of leaders–representing the University of Michigan, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Cincinnati–who are revolutionizing the process from innovation to commercialization.
The tech transfer panel included:
- Kelly Sexton, PhD, Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships at the University of Michigan
- John Hanak, Chief Innovation and Corporate Officer, University of Oklahoma
- Geoffrey Penske, Assistant Vice President for Technology Transfer at the University of Cincinnati
A sea change
Bringing the next best innovation into the world has become a lot more proactive and complex, focusing on alliances, licensing, and venture funding.
For example, Hanak says, “At the University of Oklahoma, there’s a lot that we have going on by way of programming and support that happens out of our College of Business through the Tom Love Innovation Hub, and through the Ronnie K. Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Health that provides a lot of that exact kind of support and assistance to faculty, students, staff, alumni, and other affiliates.”
Penske spoke about how UC’s Intellectual Property Office bloomed to what it is today: The Office of Innovation. “We have a Venture Lab that is responsible for helping the community, faculty, and staff build startups; taking their little nugget of an idea and helping them down the path towards creating a startup. We have a 12,000 square foot maker space, which is now open to the public, for people to take their ideas and bring them into the physical world.”
All three panelists stressed the importance of building relationships, not only across campus but with corporate partners.
“We work to build win-win research collaborations between companies and our faculty’s research labs. Our Ventures team works with other teams on campus to support the creation of new startup companies. We provide business mentorship through a mentor in residence program and facilitate connections with investors,” Sexton said.
For UC, corporate partnership is very important. Penske said, “It’s responsible for identifying and collaborating with the faculty on campus and intellectual property, to generate impact outside the institution beyond the normal pathways of education and transfer and resource knowledge.”
Research needs funding to happen and startups need money to hire talent and launch. This is why developing relationships with funding sources is so important to modern tech transfer offices.
“We really saw this gap, when we were launching the startup companies in the Midwest, in the Great Lakes region, it’s so much harder for our startups to raise, you know, the first $500,000. We’ve been building an early stage venture fund called the Accelerate Blue Fund that has invested in promising startup companies that have come out of UofM,” Sexton said.
One of the partnerships going on with OU is Boyd Street Ventures, a separate, private fund focused on technologies coming out of the university. “It’s a unique model, in that it has all the attributes and requirements of serving and satisfying limited partners, but doing it in a way that focuses on the technologies that we’re spinning out,” Hanak said.
UC is helped by three venture funds through the 1819 Innovation Hub. CincyTech was already located in the downtown area but moved uptown to be closer to UC and Cincinnati Children’s. “The other is Lightship Capital, which has since grown into a number of different arenas, including the Hillman Accelerator, which focuses on the underserved. Most recently, Orange Grove Bio moved their headquarters from New York City to Cincinnati,” said Penske.
For all three institutions, things seem to be working fine. “We’re certainly at a meaningful point with in excess of $400 million of sponsored research between our two primary campuses in Norman, Oklahoma, and in Oklahoma City with the Health Science Center campus, but also with our campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma,” said Hanak said.
And according to Sexton, “U-M has been ranked the number one public university by research expenditures for a little over a decade. Last year, that translated to just over $1.6 billion, and research expenditures across our three campuses. That’s a lot of research and a lot of discovery,” Sexton said.
What does the future hold for tech transfer?
Penske said, “We will continue to build relationships. Whether that means with Cincinnati Children’s hospital, which is right across the street, or working with University of Michigan or University of Oklahoma faculty to find those relationships and find that synergy to help all of us in creating the impact we all want to see happen.”
To get more info on these universities’ tech transfer efforts, you can watch the entire discussion here: