OTC News Archive

Program aims to increase faculty startup companies

By Alex Geiser, The Daily Texan
May 11, 2010

A new program within UT’s Office of Technology Commercialization will increase the number of startup companies the University produces, despite the fact that UT Austin already generates more ventures than any other institution in the UT System.

The New Ventures program will focus solely on creating new startups and innovative startup programs based exclusively on research and inventions coming out of UT Austin faculty.

Betsy Merrick, associate director of marketing and public relations for the commercialization office, said the New Ventures specialist will hopefully begin working with the program within the next six months. UT created 46 new startup companies between 2002 and 2009, according to data from the commercialization office.

The process of academic technology commercialization begins in the labs of universities like UT. When researchers in the lab make a discovery of any kind, many choose to license the idea to existing companies, who then mass-produce and market the invention.

If a researcher chooses not to license the invention to an existing company, many times, the researcher forms his or her own startup business used to market and disperse his or her invention. Startups, too, are an important facet of technology transfer. Merrick said the University and the state economies benefit from startups because of the jobs they produce and the interest they gain.

“Exposing these technologies to the marketplace is what brings more money to the University for further research endeavors,” Merrick said. “When we are working with startups, we bring federal and out-of-state research funding. It is our ability [at the Office of Technology Commercialization] to convert UT Austin’s research capacity into commercial activity.”

Talk of the New Venture program aside, UT Austin and the eight other universities and six health care centers that make up the UT System have already proved to be leaders in commercialization activity, according to a report released in January by the Association of University Technology Managers.

The U.S. Licensing Activity Survey for the 2008 fiscal year ranked the UT System second nationally in the number of startups created, third in licenses and options executed, and fourth in the number of U.S. patents issued. According to the report, the number of startup companies formed out of the UT System in 2008 was 25, and 10 of these came from UT Austin.

Jodi Talley, spokeswoman for the association, said the annual report is meant to provide universities with a snapshot of what is going on across the country, so they can compare their progress to other universities of similar size. Through their reports, she said the association has noticed an upward trend overall in the number of patents and licensing each year, which she said benefits the country’s economy.

The Intellectual Property Today 2009 Patent Scorecard, which ranked 124 of the top universities based on the strength of their patents, ranked the UT System fifth in the strength of the technology patented. The ranking is a combined measure of the quality and quantity of patents produced at the institution. The UT System was granted 101 patents in 2009, according to the scorecard.

The 1988 invention of the balloon-expandable stent—used as an alternative to invasive bypass surgery—was patented by Julio Palmaz, a researcher at the UT-San Antonio Health Sciences Center. UT System spokesman Matt Flores said this invention provides a good example of what can be accomplished at research institutions, including those within the UT System.

“We are not just making new discoveries, but the discoveries that we make are leading to breakthrough inventions that benefit society,” Flores said. “We can make a better grapefruit, and we can extend life through medical procedures. We are educating students, but they are also developing new knowledge that serves as the frame for new discoveries.”

[ The Daily Texan ]