There is no doubt that these are tough economic times. Unemployment is high and credit is tight. Key indicates show that is the worse economy in a generation. Many technology transfer offices have seen potential business partners reduce their innovation portfolios and expenditures. This coupled with a reduction in funding sources, from grants and investors to university sources are blowing the technology transfer research commercialization efforts into the perfect storm.
There are difficulties and challenges, but these times also create opportunities. Here are seven tips to help your technology transfer office succeed in these tough economic times.
1. Maintain a list of problems that are relevant to the research and technologies in the pipeline.
Technology transfer offices typically get involved in research commercialization efforts late in the research and testing process. Get involved earlier in the process and start developing a list of problems of which the research can be applied.
This is really an early brainstorming exercise. Don’t just talk to the researchers. Get business input from those who are not involved with the research or the research teams. Independent ideas can be worth their weight in gold.
2. Develop long-term business relationships.
“Dig the well before you are thirsty.”
Start developing business relationships with business leaders from a wide range of industries. Do this even before you have any applicable research or solutions for them. These relationships will pay off in two ways.
* You will have a better understanding of the types of challenges that these businesses face.
* When you do have promising research technologies and solutions you already have a relationship with the business or their contacts.
3. Pair researchers with business mentors.
Researchers think like researchers. Business people think like business people. Getting the two to communicate with each other versus talking to each other is a common technology transfer office challenge.
Providing a business mentor to promising research leaders will help alleviate this common problem. This continuous conduit will go a lot further than a long forgotten entrepreneurial seminar.
4. Develop alternative commercialization strategies early.
Good business people know that there is always a chance that their efforts may fail. Technology transfer officers know this too. Unfortunately, many researchers and inventors do not think about this, much less plan for it.
Most inventors think that their invention is world changing and worth millions. They have visions of establishing a company based on their research or technology, selling it for millions, and retiring in the lap of luxury.
The truth of the matter is that nine out of ten spin offs and startups will fail. You, can as the technology transfer officer can improve these odds.
I sit on the advisory board for some start up focused investment funds. One of the strategies that we have developed recently is to go for the big distribution partnering deal with large companies. When that doesn’t work – we find out why and have alternative proposals available.
This alternative could be limited distribution agreements on licensing deals. It really doesn’t matter what the alternative is. What does matter is that you get to stay in the game and get a return on the sunk costs.
5. Reduce risks for all involved.
It wasn’t that long ago that many universities shunned the entire technology transfer process. They wanted their faculty teaching and doing research, not commercializing their intellectual property. My, how times have changed.
Now universities love the revenue that comes from royalties and equity distributions and sales that are associated with intellectual property commercialization. Businesses are always looking for a competitive advantage and right now innovation is the soup de jour, except for one thing …RISK!
In order to get more businesses interested in potential technology look for new ways to reduce their potential risks. Right now cash is king. Instead of negotiating a lower royalty percentage, offer your potential licensor a deferred royalty agreement at a higher percentage. This is the business innovator’s version of “no interest payments for 3 years”.
This approach allows the business to conserve cash today and the university to reap more money in the long run. It’s better than the technology sitting on the shelf waiting to become obsolete.
6. Teach bootstrapping to your startups.
All technology startups need money. That is a known fact. The truth is that many could get by with less money than they think that they need. There in lies the art of bootstrapping. Bootstrapping basically means to start and operate a business without lots of investment funds. It requires the entrepreneur to focus on sales and to hold fixed costs to an absolute minimum.
Bootstrapping requires a unique mindset that few lead researchers turned entrepreneurs can relate to. It takes a special entrepreneur to be able to successfully bootstrap a business.
Help your lead researchers and startup teams. Get some experienced bootstrappers on your advisory and consulting teams and pass the knowledge on to your startups.
7. Partner with other technology transfer offices.
Technology transfer offices provide a valuable service to both the university and their research communities. They play a vital role in the economic development of their respective communities and states. Unlike many organizations involved in the invention commercialization process they do not compete.
Some technology transfer offices such as Stanford and MIT are the envy of their peers, however most technology transfer offices do not reside in a geographic area that harbors entrepreneurship in its DNA.
Partnering with other technology transfer offices offers many unique benefits that cannot be found though other means. It opens up dialogue and support for represented research and technologies to new areas and new commercialization ideas. It develops relationships with other potential business partners and fosters potential research synergies.
Targeted TTO partnerships can lead to specific research pairing with higher degrees of commercialization potential. This focused effort will, in the long run, yield a high degree of return on investment.
These 7 technology transfer officer tips can help you reduce your operating costs and increase your revenue generation success rate. It’s a win for society, the researcher, the business community, the university, and YOU!