With millions of dollars of research funding and teams of experts at their disposal, more universities are seeking out ways to turn research breakthroughs into business opportunities.
The answer for dozens of colleges comes down to a natural solution: an entrepreneur-in-residence program.
Mentors that help accelerate the commercialization of business ideas, entrepreneurs-in-residence can come from a variety of backgrounds and specialty areas. Their job is to help guide the flow of innovation happening across departments in a university – from connecting different researchers on campus with each other, to seeking out legal assistance for drawing up business plans to guiding an idea from prototype to reality.
Universities have always been a hotbed for research that turns into major business ideas, said Linden Rhoads, the vice provost of the University of Washington’s Center for Commercialization.
The University of Washington, which handles $1.5 billion in federal research dollars each year, was one of the first to launch the programs. After winning funding from the state Legislature five years ago, UW gathered a group of seasoned entrepreneurs to help lead a new center that would focus on university spin-offs.
With an average of 20 spinoff companies coming out of its research labs each year, UW’s entrepreneur-in-residence program is thriving as it helps to staff teams ready to lead the early-stage companies, Rhoads said.
“The pedigree and success of the people we bring in is hard to match,” Rhoads said. “Many have company exits of over $100 million, but they know the university is a great place to look for indispensible resources, innovative ideas and low-barrier to entry companies.”
Now when the university is ready to spin off a new company it looks to one of the rotating entrepreneurs-in-residence to serve as a CEO and adviser for making it successful. Graduate students and faculty are often brought on as additional team members, expanding their involvement to the business side of the research process as much as the development side.
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