At the world's universities, great ideas are in no short supply. But without a system to make those early-stage concepts commercially viable, few are likely to have real-world impact. Luckily, more universities are opening or expanding technology transfer offices (TTOs) with the sole purpose of incubating, funding, and commercializing their researchers’ best innovations.
In doing so, they address a long-existing barrier to innovation, says Brett Cornwell, associate vice chancellor for commercialization at Texas A&M University in College Station and an adjunct lecturer at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin. “Established companies rarely take on the technical, regulatory, and scale-up risks required to develop early-stage technologies,” says Cornwell. “It is a common strategy for universities to shepherd those technologies through the ‘valley of death’ to a point where it’s possible to sell them.”
University TTOs also give students and faculty many more opportunities to make tangible impact on the world. “A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into developing these technologies,” says Julie Nagel, president of the University of Kansas Innovation & Collaboration (KUIC) office in Lawrence, as well as KU’s associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship. “Faculty tell me that there’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing their life’s work make a difference in someone else’s life. If faculty want to develop a vaccine that will save children’s lives in emerging nations, they’re not going to be able to do that by staying within the boundaries of their universities.”