Effective Technology Transfer by Ian Charles
Many great business ideas begin as research projects in Universities. Unfortunately, the Universities are not so great at spinning these ideas out of academia and into the business world.
Often the inventor wants to control the project but is unwilling to forgo the not inconsiderable benefits of a tenured academic position, so the project stagnates. Also, the professor typically has little or no business experience and finds it difficult to deal with investors, customers and vendors.
A further problem is that the University’s Technology Transfer Office will often spend considerable time and resources protecting intellectual property for which there are few or no commercial applications.
One University that is trying to overcome these issues is Michigan State with the formation of Spartan Innovations a couple of years ago.
Spartan Innovations is an L3C owned by the MSU Foundation that is staffed by experienced start-up executives referred to as “CEOs in Residence”. This team has early access to all of the University’s invention disclosures and has right of first refusal on any of them. It’s only after the Spartan Innovations team has passed on a deal that the University’s Technology Transfer Office will seek another potential licensee.
While the model still has room for improvement, the first companies have been launched. Courseweaver under its CEO, Rob Fulk, launched in April and has already signed up its first customers and is in the process of closing a $4MM equity round. Several other start-ups have been formed including LifeBlood, an innovative blood storage technology and DataShark, an autonomous underwater vehicle. Both of these won awards at April’s Greenlight business plan competition and expect to launch before the end of 2014.