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Friday, 30 March 2012 11:37

Program to ease commercialization of university

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WEST MICHIGAN — A coalition of Michigan universities aims to accelerate the commercialization of technology developed in their labs by developing a broader talent base that can take a concept to the marketplace.

Backed with a $2.4 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the Tech Transfer Talent Network wants to recruit people with an entrepreneurial or technology development background that can lead or assist startup companies spun out of university research labs.

Michael Sharer“We have a need for more people who can do this,” said Michael Sharer, director of intellectual property management and commercialization at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. “We need to fill the gaps with the right people.”

WMU is one of seven universities that joined together to form the Tech Transfer Talent Network, which Sharer describes as an effort of “building the infrastructure to get people involved and finding the mechanisms to get more people involved in commercialization.”

“It’s really going to allow the universities to get more resources to access talent and bring people in that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” Sharer said. “It’s a natural fit for us. It will help us leverage a little more of the resource base (of the participating universities), which I think it will do for everyone.”

WMU, for instance, has had an entrepreneur-in-residence program since 2008 to assist startup companies but could use more resources to support it, he said.

The University of Michigan will lead the network, which also includes WMU, Grand Valley State University, Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University and Oakland University. Each university will collaborate with a regional economic development organization to recruit mentors and partnering businesses.

The network will allow each participant to share what the University of Michigan has developed to foster technology transfers.

The University of Michigan had 101 licensing agreements and spun out 11 startups in 2011 and ranks in the top 10 U.S. universities in technology transfers. U of M’s Tech Transfer office has helped launch 92 startups from research that originated in faculty labs, three-quarters of which are still based in Michigan.

“Most people agree that the core problem holding back economic vitality is having available talent, especially in the Midwest. We aim to change that,” said Ken Nisbet, executive director of Tech Transfer at the University of Michigan.

“You may get early-stage internal development funding, but if you cannot find the talent to assess commercialization issues, formulate development plans and execute on these plans, you’re not deploying that money well,” Nesbit said. “Although the results will take years to fully develop, we are confident that the Talent Network will give a boost to our collective efforts among our sister universities to transfer technology and create new startups.”

Michigan is generally viewed as one of the top states in the nation in generating intellectual property, but lacking in the ability to commercialize innovations.

In the Grand Rapids area alone, medical patents assigned to inventors grew 33 percent from 2006 to 2011, according to an annual report on the health care sector by GVSU. Medical patents awarded to companies and organizations in Kent County grew 17 percent during the same five-year period.

Increasing the pool of talent that can work with university tech transfer offices and help innovators commercialize their ideas “is exactly where we want to be and what we want to be doing,” Sharer said.

Initiatives the U of M has used effectively include:

• A database that identifies and tracks entrepreneurs to serve as experts, mentors, consultants or to co-found a company.

• Mentors-in-residence who are experienced entrepreneurs who can work within a Tech Transfer office for 12 to 18 months and help identify new business opportunities and serve as a mentor to startup ventures.

• Tech Transfer Fellows, which employs graduate students or other qualified individuals to help vet new technology and analyze market opportunities.

• A postdoctoral fellowship program for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers that encourages them to continue working in a new business.

Read 1824 times Last modified on Sunday, 12 August 2012 10:11

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