• Join your peers at SSTI's 2024 Annual Conference!

    Join us December 10-12 in Arizona to connect with and learn from your peers working around the country to strengthen their regional innovation economies. Visit ssticonference.org for more information and to register today.

  • Become an SSTI Member

    As the most comprehensive resource available for those involved in technology-based economic development, SSTI offers the services that are needed to help build tech-based economies.  Learn more about membership...

  • Subscribe to the SSTI Weekly Digest

    Each week, the SSTI Weekly Digest delivers the latest breaking news and expert analysis of critical issues affecting the tech-based economic development community. Subscribe today!

More Universities Expand Beyond Tech Transfer to Generate Startups

March 26, 2015

Earlier this year, the University of Washington (UW) relaunched its technology commercialization office as CoMotion, an entrepreneurial hub and makerspace. In doing so, UW joined a growing number of universities that have opened up their technology transfer operations to approaches inspired by the tech startup scene. The transformations of the University of Pennsylvania, Wake Forest, Tufts University and UCLA recently were profiled in Nature Biotechnology. Author Brady Huggett attributes the rise of research/entrepreneurship/makerspaces to the decline in federal support for research and the resulting need for strategies focused on the private sector. A survey by the Illinois Science and Technology Coalition found that the rise in non-tech transfer university entrepreneur support programs has led to a rapid increase in startup activity.

The UW CoMotion announcement came in January 2015 when the university decided to rebrand and relaunch its Center for Commercialization to play a more integral role in the regional and global innovation economy. UW's first vice provost of innovation, Vikram Jandhyala, said that the change was reflective of the university's desire to engage in "innovation transfer" rather than traditional technology transfer. In innovation transfer, the university works to connect communities within and outside of the university to maximize the social impact of research. The CoMotion reset was intended to lessen the focus on IP licensing and increase the focus on the university as an innovative hub.

In the three months since the announcement, CoMotion has launched a new makerspace, expanding contract engineering services and begun work on an app to connect undergraduates with innovation-focused industry mentors, according to Xconomy.

UW is far from the first university to make these kinds of changes, but is part of a new wave of institutions expanding the focus of their technology transfer operations as part of a larger university mission to expand engagement with the private sector. Huggett's article on Reinventing Tech Transfer notes that the efforts at larger institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA, have started to influence decisions at smaller institutions, such as the University of South Dakota.

These institutions are attempting find ways to drive research and startup creation in absence of federal support, according to Huggett. Both experienced researchers and first-time grant applicants are less likely to receive federal funding than they were five years ago. As a result, industry collaborations through research collaborations and shared spaces have become a promising source of funding and a way to connect to the regional economy.

There are some indications that these non-tech transfer approaches have been effective in generating startups and jobs. In December 2014, the Illinois Science and Technology Council (ISTC) conducted a survey of companies who benefited from university programs between 2009 and 2014. These programs include entrepreneurship initiatives, startup competitions and mentorship services. ISTC identified 455 companies that were created or assisted through these efforts (excluding those that also participated in tech transfer activities). About 66 percent remained active in Illinois. On a year-by-year basis, the number of non-tech transfer startups grew by 28.3 percent during the 2009-2014 period.

Read the survey...


tech transfer, higher ed