Tech Day Panel at Rutgers Focuses on Commercializing University Technologies

Research universities generate millions of dollars in additional revenue each year through the commercialization of technologies they own. As part of Tech Day, presented by the NJ Tech Council hosted on the Rutgers campus on December 6th, panelists discussed the challenges of technology commercialization while also sharing some of their best marketing practices.

Venture Capitalist Stephen Socolof moderated the panel entitled “Licensing and Marketing Technologies –­ Academic Perspectives,” that included representatives from major research universities such as UPenn, Columbia, Rutgers and Princeton. Socolof noted his recent attendance at the Demo Day held in Washington D.C. where top university technologies were showcased, which made him feel optimistic about the future of technology commercialization.

 “There are some really great things coming out of universities, and it’s happening all across the country,” Socolof began. “Universities are really looking at transitioning and adding to their portfolio, not just through learning and research but through commercialization and startups.”

A common challenge to all is attracting attention of the right outside individuals or organizations that can assist in the multi-step transition from lab to marketplace.

Laurie Tzodikov, Assistant Director of the Office of Technology Licensing at Princeton University, spoke in terms of marketing on the panel.  She noted Princeton receives approximately 100 inquiries about their technologies every year, of which 15-20 licenses are put in place.

Tzodikov and Princeton take a multi-faceted approach in marketing their technologies. They work with inventors throughout the process, always outlining the vision for the technology, before coming to the ultimate question: “How do we commercialize it?”

First, they post briefs on their website highlighting the technology. They also try to develop relationships with investment companies over the years in order to effectively market the tech, attend events like Tech Day, and also utilize social media.

Ryne DuBose, Assistant Director of the Penn Center for Innovation’s Engineering, Physical and Applied Science Office, spoke about the importance of community engagement in marketing technology.

“In the past 2-3 years, we’ve taken a different approach,” said DuBose.” “Before, we just tried to get [the technology] out the door and get someone to license it, but now we’re trying to foster more of an environment within Philadelphia for greater engagement for startups and collaborative partnerships.”

DuBose highlighted the University of Pennsylania’s new incubator space as a step in that direction. Serving as the epicenter of innovative collaborative activities, the space is a three-story, 28,000 sq. ft. building that holds both research labs and startups where different groups can come together and interact.

“By going for a more strategic, collaborative model, we see more increased activity that ultimately leads to benefitting the community, getting technology out there and creating jobs.”

David Zimmerman of Rutgers mentioned a similar process in terms of finding leads to market licensed technology.

“The number one source of leads is the personal connections that faculty has or events like this one,” said Zimmerman. “Here, I’m able to establishing a personal connection by reaching down into the lab between someone I meet at an event like this who may be interested in the technology and finding a match with faculty members doing research in that area.”

Zimmerman mentioned a few different ways Rutgers is working to support startups and tech licensing, including the New Ventures Group at the university that provides support for university startups. Another initiative is the Tech Advance Fund, a proof-of-concept fund that helps university startups bridge the gap and get to the point where they have a proof of concept and can effectively attract venture capital and subsequently grow their company.

Columbia University’s Satish Rao added that Columbia employs a two-direction approach when marketing technology.

“First, we sell out into the world, and hopefully people will license our technologies,” said Rao. “But we also sell to the faculty and researchers on our campus and get them to engage with us; without that, we don’t necessarily have the chips to license out.”

In order to license out, Rao and the university work to push Columbia out into the local ecosystem, and also try to take advantage of state-funded entrepreneurial initiatives in New York. Through these efforts, the program is now involved in three big incubator programs: one revolves clean energy, another is a medical device translational program, and they also work in a media incubator run by Columbia’s founding members.

Ultimately, the Tech Day panelists hit home the importance that technology commercialization is to each university and how their efforts are expanding to market technologies which includes outreach to the entrepreneurial ecosystem around them.    

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