Category Archives: Technology Transfer

NMSU NSF I Corps Team Pivots from Bullet Proof Backpacks to Improved Helmets #concussion #NSF #ICORPS

Nice story from New Mexico State University highlighting its participation in the NSF Innovation Corps — “Researcher teams with student” reads the headline.

The story highlights the value of the NSF I Corps and lean startup methodology as the firm pivoted from its initial focus on bullet resistant backpacks to its current focus on bringing improvement to the helmet industry. Its interesting to note that it was a university resource, Studio G, that appears to have coordinated and supported this team from NMSU. From the story by Vicki L. Nisbitt:

NMSU chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson is working with the technology through Studio G, and pursued the I-Corps funding opportunity with Xu and Studio G Director Kramer Winingham. The goal is to commercialize the lightweight and affordable material.

“Business ideas that are presented through this program have a direct impact on research and development and are closely related,” Patterson said. “Therefore, it’s important to understand the business components as they dictate the R&D direction.”

The team interviewed 100 potential customers to gain a better understanding of the market for their technology.

The I-Corps program and activities prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broaden the impact of their projects. One of the I-Corps objectives is to have an entrepreneurial student who shows potential in business and technology handle the commercialization…

07/20/2015: Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham are using a $50,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps program to further develop a protective shield material that can help save lives. (Photo by Darren Phillips)

Left to right: Mechanical engineering Research Associate Professor Roy L. Xu, chemical engineering graduate student Brian Patterson, and Studio G Director Dr. Kramer Winingham (Photo by Darren Phillips)

The DTMI material also has applications in football helmets and could help reduce concussion risk for players. The helmet shell materials with DTMI designs could increase impact-energy absorption at least 130 percent, compared to the current shell materials.

“A key finding during the I-Corps program was the opportunity for an advanced helmet shell design that could reduce concussions and adapt to other helmet technologies,” Winingham said. “This appears to be the best initial application for Dr. Xu’s technology.”

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Are Universities Teaching the Wrong Entrepreneurship Process?

I’ve long wondered why so many schools support a business plan/VC model through contests and course work when most of their students will never be in the running for venture capital. Over the past few years through Startup Mason and other activities, we’ve moved to a more experiential model/process for entrepreneurship education. We’ve supported action, iteration and experimentation in lieu of planning. (Though many contests demand plans and/or executive summaries).

Dileep Rao at Forbes.com has an interesting piece arguing against teaching business plans and competitions and for a more hands on approach to learning entrepreneurship. There is much good in this piece for those who care about entrepreneurship education.  From Rao,

 As I am constantly repeating, the capital intensive VC model has worked in Silicon Valley, but seldom outside. While 88 percent of Silicon Valley’s billion-dollar entrepreneurs used venture capital, 91 percent outside Silicon Valley did not.

This means that universities may want to consider the following:

  • Teach students how to build businesses using capital efficiency, not just capital intensity. Most areas do not have successful VC funds. Even if they did, most VC funds do not build home runs. The top four percent of VC funds earn about 65% of industry IPO profits. Getting money from the other 96 percent may not do much to build a great company or to make you wealthy. With capital efficiency, students learn to grow without wasting both time and their opportunity in order to seek VC, only to be rejected by VCs. VCs reject about 98-99 percent of entrepreneurs who seek funds from them

  • Encourage students to build their business with smarts, not money. Less than five percent of VC funding goes to startups. This means that students need to learn how to build their business, and actually get some traction, before anyone will take them seriously. Universities should teach them how to do this.

  • Teach sales. Selling is the oxygen of a new business. To sell is to succeed. Unfortunately, many business schools believe that teaching sales has no academic value. Without sales, there is no business.

  • Encourage business startups rather than business plans. Universities organize business plan competitions with the hope that wise judges can pick winners. VCs, who are the foremost ‘wise judges’ in the business, fail to reach their target 80 percent of the time. If the VCs, who are full-time professionals, fail 80 percent of the time, why do universities think that their own ‘wise’ judges can do better?

  • Teach all students, rather than just entrepreneurship students or business-school students, how to build a business. I have found that many business-school students do not have a new-business opportunity to pursue. I would suggest casting a wider net in the hope that students in other schools have ideas for a new business that they want to develop and grow.

If you are involved in entrepreneurship education or considering studying entrepreneurship, read this entire article by Rao as it will give you many things to consider as your approach university entrepreneurship offerings.

Report Says UK Struggles with Research Commercialisation | Times Higher Education | #highered

The Times Higher Education site has an interesting piece highlighting the difficulties British universities are having commercializing all of the research funding they receive from their government. A new report on the subject has supported this criticism. From Elizabeth Gibney:

“British entrepreneurs are being badly let down by a lack of access to financial support and a system that often forces them to sell out to private equity investors or larger foreign companies to get ideas off the ground,” said committee chair and Labour MP, Andrew Miller.

MPs said they had been encouraged by the work of the Technology Strategy Board and its network of “catapult” centres, but said that they were concerned about the access of small firms to facilities, and that government grant funding was often highly bureaucratic to apply for and only enough to “get an idea off the ground”.

The report, Bridging the Valley of Death: Improving the Commercialisation of Research, adds that while academic research is the “jewel in the crown of UK innovation activity”, the committee had concerns about how universities interact with the commercialisation of research.

It questions whether changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund, which reward institutions that have already benefited from successfully commercialising their intellectual property, might further decrease the success of already struggling institutions.

“We would like to see how well changes to the Higher Education Innovation Fund improve commercialisation activity; whether there is a need for greater amounts of proof of concept funding in the sector; and challenge the institutions to become more accommodating to non-traditional backgrounds among their academic staff,” it reads.

“We have concerns that driving an innovation agenda too aggressively through universities may have diminishing returns with regard to commercialisation and risk damaging the academic research that is working well,” it adds.

via MPs criticise government over research commercialisation | News | Times Higher Education.

Microgrants at U. of Michigan Will Spark Innovative Research | The Chronicle of Higher Education

We recently reported that the University of Michigan was offering a masters in entrepreneurship (joint program from business and engineering). Michigan is going deeper into the innovation and collaboration world with the announcement of microgrants to interdisciplinary teams to pursue new areas. From Paul Basken at The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Under the plan, which begins today, all Michigan faculty will be eligible for a $20,000 credit that can be redeemed only if they work with two other faculty members, including one outside their academic field.

The idea, which appears to be unique among American research universities, has numerous elements that Michigan leaders believe will be attractive to professors and the institution, including its emphases on encouraging interdisciplinary work and helping faculty compete for a tightening pool of federal money.

And, said Mary Sue Coleman, Michigan’s president, it will help Michigan and perhaps other universities overcome their widespread failure to let faculty pursue high-risk, high-reward hunches.

“I know that people have new ideas, good ideas, they’d love to try it out,” Ms. Coleman said in an interview. “But we don’t have good mechanisms now within the university for them to do that.”

Later in the piece,

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New Master of Entrepreneurship Program | University of Michigan

The University of Michigan, a leader across many disciplines (and my alma mater) has announced the creation of a Master of Entrepreneurship. Its great to see it is a joint venture between business and engineering. I was fortunate to interview Michigan Alum and supporter Sam Zell a few months back and it was evident in our short talk that Michigan, its leaders, and supporters were fully aware of the interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship. This is a great development for Michigan and the practice, research, and teaching of entrepreneurship in higher education. From the Michigan Master of Entrepreneurship website:

The Michigan Master of Entrepreneurship (MsE) gives students the ability to create new technology-focused ventures, either as standalone entities or within established innovative organizations.

This instruction is not available through conventional business or engineering curricula. Most business schools focus on the skill set required in larger, more mature organizations. Most engineering programs do not include market assessment and commercialization skills. The MsE program brings these two cultures together in a novel synthesis that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The first students will begin in August 2012 and the application is available online. Go Blue! (I can write that, this is a blog!)

via Master of Entrepreneurship | University of Michigan.

As Facebook IPO Nears, Universities Take Aim at Student Startups | Huffington Post

Dylan Reid (@startupchile) reached out to me recently to discuss universities, technology and student startups. The piece is online at the Huffington Post:

While Stanford’s gain from Google is unusual, technology-transfer agreements have long been the primary means by which universities support and profit from startups. However, as Facebook illustrates, more student-founded companies are bootstrapping without university technology, leaving schools without any profit — though that may be changing.

“The university has always been a supplier of both technology and talent,” says Frank Rimalovski Managing Director of the NYU Innovation Venture Fund “and its our job to foster and support that.” Rimalovski’s fund, which was created by the university in 2010, makes seed and series A investments in startups with ties to NYU. To date the $20 Million fund has made three investments two of which — Fondu and numberFire — were started by current students with no ties to university technology. “There’s definitely been a groundswell of entrepreneurial interest from students,” says Rimalovski “and if there’s another Zuckerberg walking around our hallways, we want to be as supportive as we would of a faculty member working on a new cancer therapy.”

“Young people have always wanted to change the world,” says Hugo Van Vuuren, a founding partner at the Experiment Fund (xFund), a new seed-stage investor housed at Harvard’s Graduate School of Engineering. What’s new, says Van Vuuren, is that their turning to startups as vehicles to do so. Van Vuuren’s fund, which was announced in January, has already made a number of small investments in high-profile startups like RockHealth, led by Hall Tecco (MBA 11′) and Omada, co-founded by Sean Duffy, currently on leave from Harvard’s MD/ MBA program.

“The culture on campus is definitely changing,” says David J. Miller, a researcher at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy who studies student entrepreneurship, “universities are under tremendous budgetary pressure in terms of outside funding and also from students paying tuition.” Rimalovski agrees saying “to be a real player as a university today, you have to engage students and faculty who are increasingly interested in starting companies.”

While university investment in startups outside of technology-transfer is fairly new, college campuses have long been a breeding ground for new businesses. Years before Brin and Page, Michael Dell was selling PC kits out of his dorm at University of Texas-Austin and Bill Gates was writing computer applications in his Harvard dorm. “The emphasis on tech-transfer is definitely misguided,” says Miller “when you look at the most successful entrepreneurs, technology is rarely a decisive factor — Bill Gates was definitely not the best coder around.”

via Dylan Reid: As Facebook IPO Nears, Universities Take Aim at Student Startups.

Summer@Highland 2012 Entrepreneurship Program for Student Entrepreneurs

I am no expert, but i think Highland Capital is a well known firm. Well, the partners there seem to agree with me that something is happening on campus with student entrepreneurs.  Check out their Summer@Highland program,

Summer@HIGHLAND is a 5-year old entrepreneurship program designed to provide university-affiliated startups with the environment and resources for taking their initiative/company to the next level. The program is “founder friendly”: Highland receives no equity stake in exchange for a team’s participation, and teams are under no obligation to Highland after the summer. Our only priority is helping entrepreneurs and their teams significantly advance their startup over the summer.

Selected teams will receive $15K, free office space in Highland’s Cambridge or Menlo Park office, and the opportunity to work closely with the Highland team and an incredible network of founders. Teams will also have access to the Summer@HIGHLAND Speaker Series, which has included founders, CEOs and experts from technology leaders.

You have about 68 days to get your applications in. (Early deadline is March 1, 2012, and regular deadline is April 5, 2012).

It is interesting to note that they are not looking for business plans, but for applicants that have taken some action, on a scalable path, and are entering large markets. This is about high impact student firms, not basic t-shirt shops (so yes, they would have rejected Marc Ecko!).

via Summer@Highland 2011 Entrepreneurship Program.