University technology transfer offices that want to improve new business
creation from the universities' inventions regularly benchmark themselves
against successful technology transfer departments. Many technology transfer
offices have found it helpful to use on-site entrepreneurs or Entrepreneurs
in Residence (EIR). These on-site entrepreneurs have successfully started
new businesses and understand the issues an inventor-founder will face.
Many EIRs work pro bono, in the interest of supporting the university and
its community, and often in the hope of finding a new startup to help develop
and eventually run.
Technology transfer offices mostly license new inventions, creating revenue
for the university and inventor, but often failing to create new jobs in
their communities. By having entrepreneurs on-site to guide inventors through
the business creation process, technology transfer offices increase the
potential of new job creation. And they begin to establish an on-campus
entrepreneurial culture that can encourage new inventors to consider launching
I spend 20% of my time each week working as a pro bono EIR at both the
University of Rochester's Office of Technology Transfer and the University
at Buffalo's Technology Incubator. At both sites I work with professors
or Ph.D. candidates who want to start a business.
A Ph.D. inventor-founder is terrifically smart. They've worked hard,
studied hard, defended a thesis, and have made it. On top of that, they
now just might have invented something that could save the planet or be
the next Microsoft.
But as smart as these founders are, there usually are gaps in their knowledge,
especially in defining optimal business structure, or raising funds to start
a new business. And only rarely do they have marketing, sales, and business
As an EIR, I have to convince the founders that they need to access new
skills to be successful. Founders will talk to a lawyer. Getting them to
talk to an accountant is harder. Getting the founder to listen to advice
about the structure and strategy for a new business is much harder.
Do these questions sound familiar? "What do you mean, the new business
needs a clearly stated value proposition?" "Why do I need key
messages stated in the language of the customer?" "I know my value
One of my startup clients told me they already had a good value proposition.
We started working on messaging for sales literature. However, we got stuck.
We ended up spending a week reworking the value proposition until we could
use it to create marketing, sales, and investor literature. Then we began
looking at how to build a strong management team. Yes, it's "Start
Up 101" stuff. But it's a mystery if you've not dealt with investors
who look at risk first before looking at the bright idea.
Founders must realize that potential investors look more closely at their
management team than their technology. Investors assess the probability
that the new business will succeed. Investors know that founders rarely
have the marketing, sales, and business development skills to move the business
into a rapid growth phase.
EIRs help founders understand what investors need to know. They help
founders understand how to communicate the value of their invention in simple
language to prospects. In addition, they help founders define the organization
and financial structure that will improve the chances of success.
Founders can help themselves by coming to the new business creation process
with open minds. Listen to outsiders who have experience with high technology
startups. Take their advice seriously. Talk to peers who have started new
businesses. Start with the basics like marketing, sales, and business plan
writing. Prepare yourself to talk with investors with the same intensity
that a PhD candidate brings to defending a dissertation before their committee.
The EIR - if a founder is lucky enough to have access to one - can help
the founder find these added critical skills. In addition, he or she can
help prepare the founder to talk to investors and new customers in simple,
clear, value delivery based language.
At both the University of Rochester and the University at Buffalo, I
currently have promising inventors exploring the creation of new businesses.
I give them both about a 75% chance of success. If one or both succeed,
we will have new high-paying jobs, happy inventors, and new impetus for
job growth in these two markets.