University Tech Transfer and Commercialization: Incentive, Infrastructure, and Impact

By Vatsal Agarwal

On March 9, I had the privilege of representing the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship and attending the University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Workshop at the College at Brockport (SUNY), which is a part of the SUNY Conversations in the Disciplines Workshop series. The series is designed to “contribute to the development and dissemination of knowledge on transferring and commercializing university technology to foster innovation and entrepreneurship” in college campuses in the Upstate New York region.

Martin K. Casstevens of University at Buffalo and Vatsal Agarwal during the conference at SUNY Brockport.

For those unfamiliar with the term technology commercialization, the University of California’s Office of the President defines it as “the process of transitioning technologies from the research lab to the marketplace”. This is a highly complex process which ensures that the results of research are made available for public use and benefit. Historically, the University of Rochester has been among the top 10 universities in the US for licensing royalty revenues through the virtue of technology commercialization with patents spanning diverse fields from healthcare and medicine to proprietary software solutions.

Throughout the day, I attended 4 different training and discussion sessions, along with remarkably insightful opening and mid-session keynote addresses. I would like to highlight and share the key takeaways from the day, arranged in chronological order of the different sessions.

Opening Keynote: SUNY Innovation Policies and Initiatives

[Address led by Heidi Macpherson, President of SUNY Brockport and Matthew Mroz, Director of Enterprise Technology Transfer at SUNY-RF]

  • Analyzing the significance of universities and partner companies in the development of the regional, as well as national, economy is key. This can be done through a discussion of university researchers and alumni, focusing on experiences and major breakthroughs.
  • Keep an eye on innovation and entrepreneurship through programs such as The Research Foundation, Industry Engagement Bootcamp, Technology Accelerator Fund, and changes in Patent Invention Policies.

Session 1: Best Practices in University Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer

[Discussion led by a panel of 5 professionals working with technology transfer offices/initiatives]

  • Fruits from the partnership of business schools and engineering/STEM schools – in funding and research capacity and intentions – are tied to the analysis of commercial viability of academic research.
  • Ideas to consider:
    • Student Incubators – why every innovative university needs one
    • Principles of ownership of research and inventions contributed by students, industry partners and faculty
    • Roles of university faculty and researchers in student ventures and innovations
    • Management of conflicts-of-interest and risks for different parties involved

Session 2: NSF I-Corps Nodes on University Technology Commercialization

[Address led by I-Corps Nodes representatives from University of Rochester and Cornell University]

  • Why do startups fail? No market need for the product (biggest and arguably, the most important reason), shortage of cash, and/or not involving the right team.
  • Regional NSF I-Corps Nodes and Short Courses (resource for customer discovery)
  • PLUG: Go to https://www.rochester.edu/aincenter/icorps-site/ or email Matthew Spielmann to learn more about UR’s I-Corps offerings!

Participants of the University Technology Transfer and Commercialization Workshop at SUNY Brockport.

Mid-Session Keynote: Unleashing Technology Transfer with Real Options

[Address led by Dr. Philip Phan, Alonzo and Virginia Decker Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at Carey Business School, Johns Hopkins University]

  • The most important question: What is the true price/intrinsic value of a patent?
  • Problems in price analysis include: market value, heavy litigation, re-issuance, subjective estimates, future cash flows, price elasticity, and time heterogeneity of patent value.
  • There is a need for a new continuous price discovery process and pioneering work on the Real Options Patent Management Strategy.

Session 3: Founding Dos and Don’ts

[Discussion led by a panel of 5 successful founders and entrepreneurs]

  • Enable the entrepreneurial mindset and culture.
  • Develop a plan for a venture project.
  • Provide training for starting/growing a startup.
  • Emphasize importance of mentors/coaches, as well as ways to find financial support/funding.
  • Share how-tos for getting a leg up through access to resources (such as an incubator or accelerator).

Session 4: Entrepreneurial Development Activity Workshop

[Activity-based workshop led by Dr. Amir Bahman Radnejad, Associate Professor of Management, SUNY Brockport]

  • Learn how to recognize when human intuition and biases are creating problems for entrepreneurs.
  • Participate in problem-solving activities that include guidance on how to think for successful innovation.

Through the workshop, I had a chance to learn more about various topics related to promotion and commercialization of innovation and entrepreneurship. Even more importantly, I also had a chance to meet and talk to industry professionals and founders – all of whom I found to be dedicated thinkers and ardent researchers with innovative ideas on how to change the world for the better.

I am ever grateful to the Ain Center for Entrepreneurship for the opportunity to attend this workshop, not only through financial support but also helpful guidance.

Vatsal Agarwal ’21 is a Financial Economics and Computer Science major at the University of Rochester. He is currently interning as a Court Efficiency Analyst at the New York State Unified Court System. He is also a part of the Ain Team, helping promote entrepreneurship and the Ain Center on and off the UR campus. Vatsal is highly interested in a career where he can feed his interests in finance and technology simultaneously and has past experience in customer service, educational fundraising and consulting, and writing business plans.