January 28, 2022
Universities should consider adapting their business model to improve their prospects of commercialising research, a university-focused venture fund says.
Stoic Venture Capital Partner Geoff Waring said there are a few initiatives universities could undertake to further improve their chances of attracting investors to commercialise their research.
Universities wanting to increase commercialisation of their IP should setup mechanisms for applied science disciplines such as medical research, science, design and engineering to collaborate more with their computer science department.
The reason is most useful inventions come out of the sciences and applied sciences. But many investors favour software because it is cheap to build a prototype. Software is very complementary as it has a more defensible ecosystem when it embodies the science and accompanies hardware.
Examples in Australia are Resapp, Abyss and Forcite. Resapp diagnoses respiratory disease by building apps and hardware devices that embody its cough recognition science developed at University of Queensland. Abyss Solutions use their robotics hardware and machine learning software developed at University of Sydney to inspect infrastructure such as oil platforms or sewerage tunnels.
Forcite from University of NSW product design combines motorcycle helmet safety hardware and software that no competitor has been able to match.
Universities who want investors to back their spin-off companies and researchers to disclose more inventions should systematically validate their research meets corporate, user and investor needs at an early stage.
Lean startup principles should begin at the research origination stage. University technology transfer offices should communicate with corporations, investors and their researchers early, before the researchers commit to the project.
The university can then help researchers adapt their research to balance their interests with commercial needs.
Recent research has shown that an Australian university technology transfer office who screens inventors through a sophisticated process considering commercial needs can increase invention disclosures and provisional patent filings.
Universities could create a fairer path for researchers to return to academia after taking time off to contribute to commercialising research.
If their company succeeds or fails, researchers should be able to either return to their university career or continue on in industry and be fairly treated.
If their chance for university promotion is hurt by time in industry they are less likely to try commercialising their research.
Achievements from researchers’ time in industry such as capital gains for the university could be recognised for promotions at university or the time exempted from the promotion clock.
Raising venture capital for a company who has licensed university IP should count toward promotion to the same degree as being awarded a research grant.
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