Could newly-appointed University of Washington president Michael Young spark a wave of innovation and commercialization at the state’s largest research institution? If his track record at the University of Utah is any indication, it certainly may.
Among Young’s first accomplishments at Utah was a massive overhaul of the tech transfer department, a move that established the university as one of the leaders in moving technologies from the research lab to the marketplace. The University of Utah recently ranked first — tied with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — for the number of startup companies created through university research.
That may surprise some, in part because Utah gets a fraction of the research dollars when compared to larger institutions.
In remarks last fall, Young touted that achievement, noting that University of Utah spin outs had attracted some $250 million in venture capital over the years. More than 100 startups have been spun out of the university in the past five years, leading to more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state.
But more importantly, at least in the view of Young, it led to the development of key technologies that actually could help people in the real world.
“If we cure cancer and it remains in a test tube, it is amusing cocktail party conversation, but it doesn’t make anyone’s life better,” Young said in the remarks to faculty last October. “But by commercializing this, and cooperating in a more intimate way and effective way with the business community, we can take this technology out and make it available to people to have the impact and effect that it really can.”
Under the direction of Linden Rhoads, Connie Bourassa-Shaw and many others, The University of Washington has been undergoing its own overhaul of how technologies make their way into the marketplace. Just last year, the UW rebranded its tech transfer department as the Center for Commercialization, or C4C.
Since then, it has been adding key members of the tech community to its ranks as entrepreneurs-in-residence — such as former WTIA president Ken Myer; biotech entrepreneur Ron Berenson; and smart grid software developer David Kaplan. Venture capitalist Rick LeFaivre and medical device startup vet Tom Clement also are helping to lead the efforts, serving as directors of the UW’s C4C’s New Ventures group.
In that regard, the UW already appears to be following the path of the University of Utah. Young’s appointment could help super-charge those efforts, which were begun under previous president Mark Emmert.
Bourassa-Shaw, who runs the UW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that Young has exhibited strong support of tech transfer programs in the past and that could serve the UW well going forward.
“The UW is an entrepreneurial campus, but with the support of an entrepreneurial president, we could become a powerhouse in research and start-ups,” she said.
One of the first things Young did after arriving at the University of Utah in 2005 was to move the tech commercialization office under the direction of the business school. Young then combined three loosely connected tech transfer efforts under one umbrella organization called “Technology Ventures.”
The 3-part mission of the organization remains:
- Create enterprises in Utah that are technology leaders in their markets and provide quality jobs for the citizens of Utah.
- Support technology development for existing Utah businesses and enterprises founded on University technologies so they prosper and expand in Utah.
- Generate returns on the University’s technologies for investment in new research, to support and retain current faculty, and to hire world-class scientists.
Melba Kurman offers a wonderful analysis of how the University of Utah made the transition, noting that the old bureaucratic procedures have been replaced with “getting the technology into play.”
And Young’s remarks last fall offer even more insight into his view of commercialization, noting that more than 80 universities have reached out to Utah to get guidance on how to do tech transfer. He added the concept was not so much about the revenue generation, though that’s a nice byproduct of the process.
“It gives us an opportunity to take what goes on in those laboratories — that research on macular degeneration … that work going on to slow the onslaught of cancer — and move those into the real world,” he said.