At more than 1,900 acres, over 90,000 faculty, staff and students, and total research expenditures of $982.5 million, the OSU campus is basically a city within a city.
Enabling through licensing, IP
Licensing technology is always a challenge no matter what university you’re at, Balderaz says. In a perfect world, a collaborative group would only measure success by whether the product was licensed or not.
“Without that collaborative group, it gets very easy to have it turn into a negotiation. And I think negotiation is a dirty word because that implies a winner and a loser,” he says.
The Technology Commercialization Office historically had a classical view of licensing — it wanted a favorable deal that pulled a lot of cash from investors upfront, Triplett says.
“That’s left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths over the years,” he says.
Triplett says the university’s leadership is aware that needs to change.
Nationwide joint business venture with OSU’s Fisher College of Business
Back in 2008, Nationwide wanted to grow its analytics functions within marketing. With a top research institution just a few miles up the road, it created a research center in The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, which became the Nationwide Center for Advanced Customer Insights.
“From the very beginning the center was composed of students and faculty from not just Fisher, but various different departments across the university,” says Michael J. McCaslin, Ph.D., NCACI executive in resident of Customer Analytics at Nationwide.
Graduate students work 20 hours a week on Nationwide analytics projects and spend time downtown at the company’s headquarters.
McCaslin, who worked in the program when studying for his doctorate, is now the lead liaison between Nationwide and the NCACI. He says the breadth of students has grown. They come from not just business, but also psychology, communications, economics, engineering and statistics.
Students get direct experience in industry to see if that’s where they want to take their career. Nationwide, in turn, gets exposure to top-notch researchers on the cutting edge of the big data field, which is a competitive advantage.
It also means they can follow a “try before you buy model,” McCaslin says. By the time the students complete their graduate research assistantship, Nationwide has a good sense of that student’s skills and interests and whether or not he or she would be a good fit for one of Nationwide’s analytics teams.
“Their ability to contribute is very rapid,” he says. “The learning curve and the contribution curve are much shorter for our GRA folks than if we were to hire somebody from a typical external search.”
There aren’t many organizations with an embedded relationship like Nationwide, and McCaslin says that linkage, which includes on-site offices, gives the company opportunities it would not have otherwise.
For instance, OSU has been developing analytics curricula such as an undergraduate analytics degree and analytics MBA tract.
“We’re having a voice in shaping what the course is and training looks like,” he says.
The company also provides real world problems, which are sanitized to protect the data, to OSU and Harvard University students. Bright people working on an interesting problem can provide a different outlook and is another indirect recruiting tool, McCaslin says.
“We’ve really enjoyed our partnership with Ohio State,” he says. “It’s a strong mutually beneficial relationship.”
How to reach: Nationwide Center for Advanced Customer Insights, (614) 247-6047
Spitzner, who founded or co-founded about 10 companies and was involved in the largest upfront licensing deal at OSU — Signet Accel — says he’s heard good and bad things about OSU licensing, but his experience has been generally good since the university grew interested in commercialization.
“People that actually do their homework and do the work have a great relationship with Ohio State,” he says.
You can’t just show up and say I want this technology, Spitzner says. You need the right team that has already put in some investment, whether it’s cash or sweat equity.
One particular challenge, though, is that the licensing department is still stretched for resources, Spitzner says. There’s been turnover as commercialization demand grows and licensing agents get cherry-picked for other institutions. That makes it hard to build relationships.
In his seven years at OSU, Emerling has seen a shift in regards to IP, calling it quantum leaps ahead of where it used to be.
Previously, IP was shared — every university thought it had the next Gatorade.
“The reality of that is there is only a few of those drug hits and Gatorade hits that really fill the coffers of the university treasury,” he says. “The philosophy … of signing these master agreements and working with friendlier IP terms has really helped open up the relationships.”
With a master agreement, Emerling says engagement increases, truly becoming a partnership.
After working with multiple research organizations, Triplett has found the best ones have IP management that is functional, capable and streamlined, with reasonable expectations of the value of that technology.
In addition, they typically have internal funding mechanisms to validate or mature technologies, while also evaluating the business value proposition and tapping into strong external networks.
Rise of the startups
Forty-eight active startups have been a result of OSU technology that has spun out. That’s a significant uptick.
OSU is now tied with Northwestern University for the lead in helping create the most startups in the Big 10 — it used to be at the bottom.
“A lot of times the technology here needs more work before it’s ready to be commercialized by a company, and so a startup allows that to happen,” McNair says. “The startup can perform more testing and allows that technology to mature. It’s been a very intentional effort now for the last couple of years, and it’s paying off.”
Tom Walker, president and CEO of Rev1 Ventures, says spinouts coming from the university are gathering momentum. That’s partly because the Technology Commercialization Office is taking a customer-friendly approach toward the faculty generating the innovations and entrepreneurs who want to spin out technologies.
That’s key because an additional challenge with spinning out technologies from a research institution is identifying a founder. Walker says, for the most part, the innovator will continue to be a faculty member.
“That’s many times, the initial hurdle: Who is going to lead the company?” he says. “The opportunities that we’ve seen gain traction in a much faster way, they’ve had a really sound founder as part of the initial team, leading the effort.”
The right founder is critical because there’s still a lot of work to be done on the technology after the new company forms.
“If we use a football analogy, people think that once you spin an innovation out of a research institution that the ball is on the 50-yard line and you’re ready to go to the end zone,” Walker says. “It’s really more, you’re on the 20, and there’s still a lot of development work that has to be done.”
Finding founders who can lead the opportunities that are coming out of research institutions and building infrastructure, such as first-class wet lab facilities for life science companies, needs to be an ongoing effort to keep the momentum going, he says.
Overall, however, the corporate base has rallied around startups, which helps the greater numbers of OSU spinouts.
“I’m really proud of the Columbus startup community,” Walker says. “Last year, the Kauffman Index ranked Columbus as the No. 1 most active startup community in the country. We’re starting to see some incredible momentum in town and in Central Ohio.”
Partner or perish
University of Michigan leads the way in business collaboration
The University of Michigan Business Engagement Center is one of the best in the country — just behind titans like Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
That’s why more than 60 universities, including The Ohio State University, have visited the BEC in the past two and a half years.
Executive Director Stella Wixom says the center was established in 2007 with the idea that the university — which is large, complex and decentralized like many higher education institutions — needed to make it easier to “do business.”
By creating a front door for industry, U-M created corporate partnerships that were more than just one-dimensional transactional relationships. It moved beyond the traditional philanthropic engagement.
Wixom says Mary Sue Coleman, president at the time, had a mantra of partner-or-perish, rather than publish-or-perish as professors are wont to say.
“Her point was that we can’t have a strong University of Michigan without a strong state of Michigan,” she says. “It was a real emphasis on recognizing that we needed to be more available to small and medium size businesses in the state.”
Federal dollars were decreasing, making funding/commercialization partners more important. And those same businesses were the ones hiring graduates.
The BEC started with a staff of three, which has grown to 11. Seven of those are relationship managers, a role similar to an account manager.
According to Wixom, here’s how the BEC increases collaboration and fosters partnerships:
Constantly re-educate — In the beginning, the staff met with all of the different colleges and departments to introduce the BEC and talk about its mission. That educational process is a never-ending, as staff turns over.
It also extends externally to constantly meeting with economic development organizations and business leaders.
Don’t force it — Some faculty members don’t want to work with industry, so the BEC doesn’t make them. It’s available and visible to the more entrepreneurial faculty — helping them understand what role the BEC could play.
Celebrate success — The BEC uses testimonies to show what’s possible, by letting faculty hear it from their peers.
Streamline — Companies would complain that they didn’t own the intellectual property and that the contractual process took too long. By working closely with several university offices, the BEC found ways to allow companies to pre-negotiate IP at the front end of a research contract, as well as re-structuring to blend federal and industry contracts. Improving internal communication and keeping everything holistic was a differentiator.
Make it easy — Companies don’t have the bandwidth to go to multiple touch points. The BEC organizes and hosts meetings, reaches out to faculty and ensures the key contact is aware of other ways that company is engaging with the university.
In addition, U-M and other colleges and universities created faculty profiles in an expertise portal, through the Michigan Corporate Relations Network, where businesses can search for experts in one place.
Be an enabler, not a policeman — The BEC is not a gatekeeper, just a resource. Faculty members still have individual relationships with companies, but if the business partner would like to expand its U-M relationship, the BEC steps in. For example, a company may want to create a strategic philosophy for its brand to improve campus recruiting.
Long-term planning — The BEC has identified its top 35 strategic partners, based on philanthropy, research, recruiting, etc. The relationship managers then have three-year strategic plans for those companies. Where is the relationship right now, and how can the BEC grow that?
How to reach: University of Michigan Business Engagement Center, (877) 647-1000