OTC News Archive

Spinout doctor

By Cheryl Meyer, TheDeal.com
February 15, 2006

The University of Texas at Austin isn’t at the head of the class when it comes to commercializing university technology. That space is dominated by the likes of Stanford University, which filed more than 300 patents in 2004 and has spawned an impressive list of companies over the years including Google Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Yahoo! Inc.; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which each year generates about 100 licensing agreements and spins off 20 startup companies. By comparison, through 2004, UT Austin’s Office of Technology Commercialization averaged about 26 licensing agreements annually and created an average of five startups per year.

But the Longhorns have experienced an upsurge in activity since director Neil Iscoe arrived in 2003. Revenue generated from university technologies that have been licensed or spun out into standalone companies was up from $3.9 million in ’03 to $6.7 million last year. The number of patents filed increased from 18 in 2002 to 120 in 2005, and the number of invention disclosure forms submitted by researchers interested in commercializing their technology rose from 68 in 2003 to 128 last year.

“I was hired to make this department work,” Iscoe says. Highlights over the past three years include a deal with Arch Venture Partners to spin out Semzyme, a startup based on UT Austin-developed nanotechnology, and the spinout of drug discovery software maker Optive Research Inc., founded in 2003 by UT Austin professor Robert Pearlman.

Innovative technology is the foundation of tech transfer. But a dynamic team of dealmakers that can recognize promising research, market it to potential buyers, negotiate licensing and equity agreements, and maintain a network of venture capital and industry contacts is crucial as well. “It takes a particularly sophisticated dealmaker to work here,” Iscoe says, “because they have to work with both faculty and industry and deal with them quickly.”

Iscoe’s entrepreneurial background—he’s founded two tech companies, including financial transaction firm eCertain—helps him work with university researchers, VCs, and private-sector entrepreneurs. He’s also building stronger ties with Austin’s high-tech industry, speaking at numerous early-stage technology conferences each year, working trade shows and hosting an annual university technology showcase titled “Ready to Commercialize.”

Entercel Ltd., an Austin-based biotech company and UT Austin spinoff, is a rising OTC star. Co-founded by former UT Austin graduate student Brian Windsor, now the company’s managing director and chief scientist, Entercel’s technology enhances the performance of fungicides. The OTC was instrumental in helping Windsor commercialize his technology, securing venture funding from Emergent Technologies Inc., which helped launch Entercel in April 2004.

“Neil and the OTC cut through all of the red tape to get a deal done … in a very short amount of time,” Windsor says. “Working with Neil is on par with working with anyone in industry who is in business development. He gets it from the side of the company, from the side of venture capital and obviously from the side of the university.”

Entercel has yet to sign any licensing agreements, but it has several joint development deals in the works. Last year, for example, Entercel signed an agreement with pest management giant Dow AgroSciences LLC of Indianapolis to determine if Entercel’s technology can improve the efficacy of Dow’s products.

If Entercel takes flight, the OTC, which has an equity stake, will share in the reward. The payoff won’t come close to the $336 million Stanford made in 2005 by selling a sliver of its Google stock—but you’ve got to start somewhere.