What’s technology transfer? Broadly speaking, it’s the process of transferring technology, knowledge, or scientific findings from research labs to commercial sectors.
Continuing last week’s conversation on tech-led economic development and research park startup companies, Brian Darmody talks about tech transfer models, the role startups play in facilitating tech transfer, favorite company success story and more.
Darmody was a staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives; the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis, Maryland; and the Office of the Attorney-Advisor, U.S. Health Care Financing Administration. He currently leads the Association of University Research Parks (AURP), sits on several local and national economic- and technology-related boards, as well as serves as the associate vice president for research and economic development, and special assistant vice chancellor for technology development with the University System of Maryland.
* Edited interview
VH: What are some common technology transfer models?
BD: Based on the Bayh-Dole Act, the classic model was to develop a license to transfer university-owned technology to an existing company. Most university technology, however, isn’t mature enough to interest large companies (biotechnology is one notable exception to this rule). Therefore, universities have been developing new models of technology partnering and commercialization in the last 20 years. These models include:
The biotech trade group BIO just released an excellent report on the impact of startup creation and university licensing over the past 20 years, and it’s shown that the tech transfer model is radically evolving from its licensing roots.
VH: How’s tech transfer evaluated?
BD: We used to measure only license income and number of licenses, etc. Those aren’t enough. We need to develop better measures on how to evaluate technology transfer. The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) is looking at new metrics, such as job creation and knowledge generation, which MIT did a few years ago.
VH: In what way do startup companies facilitate technology transfer?
BD: Existing companies usually aren’t interested in technologies offered by universities. Oftentimes the only way to get a technology developed further is to help create a startup that’s willing to take on the commercialization risks of an early-stage technology. At University of Maryland (UM) we created a program called Venture Accelerator to take on this task.
VH: Share with us a specific company success story that’s made the most impression on you. How did this company win your hearts?
BD: Under Armour is a good, non-traditional example. The founder, Kevin Plank, was a football player and a very entrepreneurial business student at the UM. He sold roses on Valentine’s Day out of his Maryland dorm, much like Michael Dell sold computers from the University of Texas dorm.
Anyway, Plank didn’t like the weight and feel of his cotton football shirts so he began experimenting with different fabrics that weighted less and that wicked away moisture. After graduation he started selling shirts to football teams, including the team at UM, and propelled his business, Under Armour, to become one of the fastest growing consumer sporting goods companies in the U.S. that are still based in Maryland.
He hired many UM graduates and helped build the Maryland economy. Plank also donated funds to run Cupid’s Cup, a student entrepreneur competition in the Smith Business School at UM. Though UM never owned any IP from Under Armour, I’d like to think of it as a UM related company, just like Stanford never owned any IP from Hewlett-Packard, but it’s very much a Stanford spinout.
VH: South Park or The Simpsons?
BD: Actually I haven’t seen any episode all the way through so I can’t really pick on the basis of content. But I know that Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, is from Oregon, where my wife’s family is from as well, so I have to support the Pacific Northwest guy.
I view nuclear energy as one of the solutions for a lower carbon energy future so I hope Matt upgrades that old nuc power plant in Simpsons’ Springfield with one of the next generation nuclear energy plants. Go Ducks!
* For series, references are published in the last installment of the series.