What University Commercialization Professionals Should Know About the Corporate World

Commercialization professionals in universities have a number of stakeholders and while they all want a similar thing – a lucrative project/patent with marketing potential – there are some differences between how corporate departments and their equivalents at the university level operate.

While it’s best to do your homework on the individuals you’re working with, this article may give you an appreciation for the corporate and start-up communities and how they differ from academic institutions.


Start-up First, Degree Second

While many successful start-ups begin in college, it is rare for self-starting entrepreneurs to finish their degree. Many refer to having a “real world education” as a source of pride. This is a big difference from technology transfer professionals at a university where most of them have advanced degrees.


Targeted Search Versus Large Portfolios

Technology transfer professionals are juggling a lot more balls handling large portfolios, tracking hundreds of projects through the patent process, developing relationships in and out of the university, trying to ascertain marketability on new research, and trying to match research projects with commercial partners. They are often everything to everybody.

Industry on the other hand is singularly focused. For instance, the pharmaceutical company is looking to introduce a drug for lung cancer. That’s it. That’s what they want.

Commercialization people at the university level have an entire jigsaw puzzle they are working, looking for the fit for a number of pieces at the same time; their corporate counterparts have only one or two pieces and they’re wondering if you have the match.


Goals Versus Budget

Technology transfer offices have commercialization and patent goals. Corporate commercialization departments have budgets and fiscal calendars. Often the latter’s decision-making is based on that budget and the calendar. They have promised certain revenue to their stockholders or financiers and they need to make that happen. If earnings are down and budgets are exceeded, they could be out of a job.

This drive for revenue means industry moves quick. They have annual reports to file, financial backers who want updates, and they must make a profit. Some universities, on the other hand, don’t have revenue expectations for each fiscal year because you can’t rush research. It often doesn’t adhere to a timeline. You may find corporate commercialization professionals find this tiresome so managing expectations is important.

Finally, industry needs academia. Many companies have cut their research departments to the bare bones and rely on academic research institutions to bring them the next big patent. It’s a rewarding symbiotic relationship if you can manage the differences.

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