How Technology Commercialization Teams Are Thinking Differently

The tech transfer landscape is changing and operations teams are seeing new types of agreements, financial terms, royalty payments, equity, internal funding, and more.  (Image:

Traditional technology commercialization operations teams are being asked to do more – an expanding scope of work that includes an increasingly diverse group of stakeholders.

A panel of operations experts, including James Licklider, executive director of operations and chief of staff at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, recently spoke about these industry changes and more at the AUTM 2023 Annual Meeting.

At the University of Chicago, the Polsky Center – which is the hub for all entrepreneurship activity on campus – has responded to this evolution with the recent launch of Deep Tech Ventures.

Read more: UChicago launches Polsky Deep Tech Ventures to support startups bringing science, tech to market >>

“Thinking about our strategy and how we get there, it’s made us think differently about how we support those activities,” explained Licklider, speaking to the new offerings made available as part of this launch.

While universities receive equity through license agreements with IP-based startups, the Polsky Center, with the launch of new industry-specific accelerators, will be making SAFE investments in program participants, including both UChicago-linked ventures as well as non-University affiliated startups from around the nation and world. “That’s not necessarily a traditional way for an innovation office to think of funding,” Licklider noted.

“The hope is that equity captured in Deep Tech Ventures accelerator companies will be the renewing revenues that keep these accelerators and others we develop in play—our end goal is to make more opportunities available for founders and researchers,” he added.

“Funding is highly competitive, so the more that we can do as a university to support our deep technology ventures, the greater impact we can have.”

The Polsky Center is also serving as the lead for proposals and applications that tap into federal, state, and corporate grant opportunities. The operations unit now handles pre-award and post-award activities, work that hasn’t traditionally been handled by a technology commercialization unit.

Additionally, the operations team works to track touchpoints and engagements from all of the stakeholders, which increasingly includes more non-University affiliated startups.

“It’s become more important to capture KPIs for leadership,” said Licklider, “to better understand the programming that we deliver, the impact that we are having in small and large ways, and to be able to quantify that impact beyond merely generating revenue. It’s about supporting the larger research mission of the university.”

As the landscape continues to evolve, how do tech transfer offices keep pace? Licklider said the Polsky Center leverages its strong ties to other campus units and UChicago’s network of peer institutions, which share standard operating procedures and best practices.

Also important is talking to licensees, keeping track of trends in the marketplace, “and attending sessions like this one so we can hear about what other universities are doing,” said Licklider.

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