The University of Minnesota’s Office for Technology Commercialization launched eight startups in fiscal 2010, and expects to top that number this year. As associate director of the OTC’s Venture Center, Russ Straate spends a good deal of time working with entrepreneurs, scientists and investors to create companies based on university research. Here, he offers some insights on green-lighting a startup around your IP.
Manage your expectations
It’s unrealistic to expect that an inventor can take on a leadership role with a startup while also upholding his/her duties at the university. Neither the university nor potential investors will allow researchers to commit to two full-time positions. Ideally, the researcher should have a secondary role in the startup.
The proof is in the profit
Ultimately, the commercialization path of a technology should be the one that generates the most financial return for the inventor and the university. The financial return must balance the commercial potential of launching the startup — and the market opportunity has to be sizable enough to attract investors.
Heed conflicts of interest
There are some principles of the university Conflict of Interest policy that will apply to most scenarios. A researcher will not be permitted to use public funding to continue his/her research if it’s in the same field as the startup. The researcher will also not be allowed to hold a board or officer position in the startup. And an inventor’s equity in the new company will likely be scrutinized by university officials.
Collaboration is key
Successful startups have at least one thing in common: a strong relationship between the inventor and the startup leadership. The inventor should support the startup by moving the research forward, and advising leadership on the technical details of the venture.
Get a plan in place
The inventor should work with the Office for Technology Commercialization to assemble a plan outlining oversight of future research, and how the researcher will disclose involvement with the company to students, peers and funders. Contact the OTC to get started on your plan.
Want to learn more? Don’t miss the OTC’s Startup Workshop on Nov. 2.