Who will bridge the tech transfer gap?


The National Sciences Foundation kicked off its first round of I-CORE awards this October, with an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for 21 groups of university inventors. The idea is to develop a new generation of researchers who better understand how to develop and market their inventions for industry: researchers who are also skilled entrepreneurs. It will be interesting to see how the quarterly award will reshape the tech transfer landscape in the US by increasing researchers’ entrepreneurial skills. But the biggest payoff, at least in my mind, will be in terms of a cultural shift among academics (University inventors don’t have a reputation for pitching to industry).

There is no question that numerous opportunities are lost simply because inventors are not tuned in to commercial opportunities and industry need. With the current economic environment, people need to pay close attention to these missed opportunities flowing from invested research dollars. And technology transfer requires more than dollars; it requires skilled inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs. But I don’t believe that every inventor needs to be, or should be, an entrepreneur. There is nothing wrong with outsourcing innovation or entrepreneurship once you have an invention, so long as the mechanisms and bodies exist to do so (much more could be done here). There are also important steps that university technology transfer offices and industry can take to meet each other half way.

In the words of Joe Girard, “The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs… one step at a time.”