The Hardest Things About Hiring Tech Transfer Office Directors—and How to Ease the Pain

The head of a technology transfer office sets the tone and pace of an institution’s economic engagement efforts, and is frequently on point for a variety of high-profile innovation management and entrepreneurship activities. When he or she leaves, filling the void can be difficult, and without focused attention, talent searches can languish for years. Leaving no one at the helm— or an overworked junior person as a stopgap— can rapidly hamper your institution’s technology commercialization efforts and damage its long-term success.

What makes filling these vacancies difficult?

  1. When a person departs, their workload doesn’t— instead, it spills onto remaining employees or goes undone. The resulting avalanche can disrupt the process of closing undone deals and opening new ones.
  2. The administrator or committee doing the hiring is not always familiar with the specialized skillset and personality traits necessary to direct a tech transfer office, especially if the current technology transfer staff is small or nonexistent. Relevant experience can span intellectual property, licensing, strategic alliances, entrepreneurship, and business development—and is different for each institution.
  3. Institutional stakeholders span industry relations, sponsored research, legal, and licensing staff. It can take significant coordination and multiple rounds of interviews to make sure all stakeholders get a chance to opine. Delays in bureaucratic university hiring structures may mean your candidate can be poached from elsewhere before you can make the offer.

What can help?

  1. Have clear operating procedures in place when a director leaves. What is the chain of signatures for getting deals done? Is there a replacement point of contact for industry visiting days or agreements still in negotiation? To whom can junior licensing staff turn for advice?
  2. Understand, communicate, and write down the necessary suite of a director’s skills particular to your institution. It’s important to note that the requisite talents often differ from those typical of corporate business development or faculty research.
  3. To leverage an existing network of trained technology transfer candidates, university executives can quickly post vacancies on the AUTM website and the Techno-L mailing list.
  4. Engage an outside firm to listen to your institution’s unique needs, handle candidate sourcing, and set up quality interviews. To that end, the Vortechs Group is committed to helping minimize the amount of time crucial technology transfer positions go unfilled.

Staffing university and nonprofit innovation ecosystems is complex. Need more advice on closing the gap? Contact the Vortechs Group at (614) 899-6696.

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