The World Cup is into the Round of 16, the outcome of an extended process of competitions between the world’s best soccer teams and their players. Like the players’ skill level on the pitch, at universities our faculty are literally the best at what they do—serving as the smartest minds behind the innovations of tomorrow. At this zenith, you have to ask, “When every player/faculty is the best, what makes some better at this moment?”. For us in technology transfer, we must develop unique ways to answer this question and identify those faculty that are ready at this moment to play their important role in transferring technology from the lab to the marketplace.
One approach that I have learned from leading technology transfer professionals is the development of a set of questions to insert into early conversations and relationship-building with faculty that are interested in disclosing their inventions to the office. These questions are unique to the necessary checklists that are common at this stage of evaluation, and are directed at getting at some of the factors that might make faculty better than the best at that moment. Within this list of questions that I’ve collected through the years, there is a favorite of mine…
Here is the routine:
1)Complete your normal checklist and focus on the tech-to-be-disclosed
2)Ask: So, what else are you working on?
3)Keep quiet, listen, and infer the following:
- Time management/freedom: If the faculty member shows a strong passion for a laundry list of projects that could only be realistically divided into 5 hrs of dedicated time/week chunks, then she likely won’t be able to be significantly involved in the commercialization of the technology. Is she ok with that? Are you ok with that?
- Dedication to project at hand: At any point in the answer, was there an unsolicited indication that the project being discussed today is of primary importance? That is a good sign.
- Identify the best submission: In the answer there might be a disclosure of a technology that is actually better positioned for commercialization, or one that you should keep an eye on. This is an opportunity for you to gather this information and to encourage the faculty down more promising avenues.
- Positioning of research to need: Is the faculty listing valuable pursuits that are a recognized mid- to long-term need of society/marketplace? This indicates an understanding of the outside world and the potential for societal impact.
- Aptitude for Collaboration: Does the faculty recognize her internal or external partners? This would demonstrate an ability to work as part of a team and indicates that others like to work with her.
- Attachment to technology: Maybe the most important extraction to make is whether you will be able to create enough of a separation between the project and faculty to insert the necessary steps and concessions to commercialize. To much “I” and “my” can be a bad thing.
If all goes well, you will get the answers that you need to help identify the faculty that are most ready today to succeed as your office supports the ultimate goal of bringing leading technology to the marketplace.