New Office Changing the Way UT Dallas
Commercializes Researchers’ Intellectual Property
Technology Program to Link Faculty and Students to Entrepreneurial Resources
May 27, 2008
UT Dallas is reinventing how it commercializes its intellectual property by establishing an office to help researchers create companies and move their inventions from the lab to the marketplace.
The newly created Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) will be led by Robert L. Robb. An entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Robb has been appointed associate vice president for technology commercialization to oversee all activities related to new venture development, intellectual property protection and licensing.
“We aspire to be among the most creative, innovative universities in the world. We get there by harnessing the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of our faculty and students, and finding the ideas that become tomorrow’s inventions,” said UT Dallas President David E. Daniel. “This office has a critical role to play in that process.”
Robb said the University is shifting its role from that of a gatekeeper to facilitator.
“The focus will be on encouraging and supporting our faculty-inventors to become more entrepreneurial with more resources to commercialize their ideas,” he said.
The new office will collaborate closely with the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) in the School of Management, where Robb is the director of venture development and a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship. The IIE will provide resources to assess the commercial potential of inventions and write business plans for spin-out companies.
In addition to these local resources, the State of Texas is doing its part to encourage and support technology transfer at its public universities through the State’s Emerging Technology Fund (ETF).
The ETF was created in 2005 by Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature. The $200 million fund encourages economic development in the state by promoting commercial development of new technologies and recruiting top researchers to the state’s academic institutions. An additional 5 percent of each Research Superiority Acquisition award from the ETF is available to universities as incentive awards to support commercialization efforts. Research Superiority Acquisition grants support the hiring of highly qualified faculty with the potential to foster innovation and commercialization from their research.
Vitally important to all of these efforts is the North Texas Regional Center for Innovation and Commercialization, which will continue to be an important partner with UT Dallas’ technology transfer efforts as well.
The OTC will have seven main functions:
- Educating, advising and assisting inventors.
- Evaluating the commercial potential of UT Dallas inventions.
- Protecting intellectual property.
- Collaborating with regional universities to commercialize jointly developed technologies.
- Facilitating the creation of spin-out companies.
- Assisting in the licensing of commercially viable technologies.
- Communicating commercialization opportunities to investors and industry.
UT Dallas Vice President for Research Bruce Gnade recruited Robb to move UT Dallas away from a more traditional model of university technology transfer. Dr. Gnade’s previous experience as a researcher in both academic and industrial settings was a key factor in his desire to reinvent the commercialization process. Gnade believes the OTC will serve as a catalyst for the development of new inventions and enterprises by providing support to researchers and a central point of contact for the business and investment communities.
“With our history and proximity to the Telecom Corridor, UT Dallas already has a network of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other experts who can spot opportunities and drive commercialization,” said Gnade. “The OTC will make it easier for those people and our researchers to work together to develop new and exciting commercial ideas and enterprises.’
Gnade, Robb and other UT Dallas administrators spent several months consulting with stakeholders inside and outside the University about re-engineering its technology transfer operation. A consensus emerged about the key changes UT Dallas needed to implement. These include:
- Providing more resources for UT Dallas researchers to facilitate the commercialization process.
- Pushing as many technologies as possible into the marketplace to increase the probability of commercial success.
- Engaging more researchers in the process of commercializing UT Dallas inventions.
- Creating an entrepreneurial culture on campus with the support of business-savvy administrators and faculty-inventors, and with the advice and guidance of University supporters from industry and the venture capital community.
With these points as his blueprint, Robb is ready to take on the challenge of transforming UT Dallas’ commercialization efforts, a task for which he is highly qualified. Robb founded and nurtured 24 early stage companies and served as the chief executive officer to seven others. He has coached entrepreneurs and advised early stage companies in all facets of development and has raised more than $80 million for start-up and early stage companies. In addition, he founded two seed-stage venture capital firms, including a public venture firm.
Before becoming an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Robb served as director of the Office of Technology Management at the University of Michigan and executive director of venture development for Baylor College of Medicine.
The new office supports at least two initiatives in the University’s Strategic Plan, including strengthening research productivity and improving the region’s quality of life through economic development.