How To Fund Commercialization of University Research? Crowdfunding, of Course!

Crowdfunding is an ideal alternative to help accelerate successful commercialization of academic research.

Crowdfunding is an ideal alternative to help accelerate successful commercialization of academic research.

Perhaps it was just a matter of time – but here’s a new development in the funding of academic research and technology commercialization. The University of Utah’s Technology Commercialization Office (TCO)—#1 in the country for startups launched by research organizations for three of the last five years—has spun off more than 150 companies in the past seven years.
Recently the U’s TCO has launched a program to help build even more value in the startups they spin out. The office has entered an exclusive agreement with crowdfunding platform RocketHub of New York. Their plan is to bring crowdfunding forward for the funding of university technologies on a new web portal: the University Tech Vault.
The program began Jan. 1 with the launch of four university-specific crowdfunding campaigns (more about them below). This is the first program of its nature. Based on its success, the U hopes to use the University Tech Vault to launch many more companies. Better news still: the University Tech Vault is not exclusive to the University of Utah. Any university is invited to post its campaigns. According to Matthew H. Gardner, business development associate, approximately 10 additional universities have expressed an interest so far.

Why is the program so advantageous? There are several reasons, Gardner points out.

The purpose of any TCO (or Technology License Office, TLO, as some universities call them) is to create as much commercialization success as possible. Clearly our economy and our society needs innovation—especially the disruptive kind of innovation that can produce bioscience and technology breakthroughs—to spur economic development, and with that development, create expansive numbers of jobs.

But who decides which technologies will actually make it to the market? Bloomberg’s Robert E. Litan points out that one of the big disadvantages of the traditional TLO model is that the TLO exerts the entire control over which innovations reach the market, in what form, and how fast.

These offices – particularly one such as the University of Utah’s–have produced scores of successful ventures and have great experience in determining the idea, the management team, and helping secure the funding that gets a successful university-generated business off the ground. But why not let the consumer and investment community take a greater role? The immediate feedback and funding “lift” crowdfunding can provide for these new developments can do much to advance these businesses more quickly and with a greater level of precision than the TCO’s resources alone could provide.

“We help a great number of companies get to market, however, the money a company could raise through the University Tech Vault can be extremely helpful to new business ventures that might not otherwise attract funding,” Gardner says.

RocketHub’s co-founder Alon Hillel-Tuch expects big things from the collaboration with the University of Utah as well. “This partnership is helping to drive further crowdfunding innovation,” he says.

How will the programs evolve as true CrowdFund Investing (CFi) becomes formalized by the SEC later this year? “Until the criteria is set, none of us knows for certain what CFi will bring,” Gardner says. “That’s one of the reasons we chose to partner with RocketHub—they are at the forefront in these new developments, and their role in working closely with the SEC and with the investment and commercial sector in this process will help ensure the process goes well. If CFi goes well, it could augment or even replace the role these companies are currently dependent on angel investment to play.”
Here are the first crowdfunding campaigns the TCO is launching. At the time of this writing, all four companies are making good progress, and one of them, Active Desk, has nearly met its full campaign goal.

Axon Optics, a startup company developing an improved version of its unique eyeglass lenses that can reduce the occurrence of migraines. The company wants to raise $15,000. The team is led by University of Utah researchers Brad Katz, M.D., Ph.D., of the Moran Eye Center, and Steve Blair, Ph.D., of the department of electrical engineering.

iStar, an educational program dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorders how to use computers for 3D modeling. People with autism often have strong visual skills, and iStar is promoting that through their innovative program. The program wants to raise $25,000 to add staff and expand. The team is led by University of Utahresearchers Cheryl Wright, Ph.D., of the department of family and consumer studies, andScott Wright, Ph.D., of the gerontology program at the College of Nursing. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign here.
Roll Control, a startup company with a product that allows disabled people to operate an electric wheelchair using large muscle groups (like the shoulder) instead of small groups (like fingers). The team wants to raise $10,000 to develop a second-generation prototype. The company is led by Jerica Johnson and Jessica Mayer, of the School of Medicine. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign at here.

Active Desk, is a startup company with a desk fitted with a stationary recumbent bicycle. The bike allows the user to pedal their way to better health without breaking a sweat or interfering with their work. The company wants to raise $10,000 to develop software and other improvements. The team is led by researcher Jim Martin, Ph.D., of the department of exercise and sport science. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign here.

Would you like to learn more about the University Tech Vault? You can contact Nick Swisher at the Technology Commercialization Office, University of Utah, at Nick.Swisher@tco.utah.edu.

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Jeremy Kartchner, Partner at Snapp Conner PR. Disclosure: SnappConner has a working relationship with the U of U TCO.
Source: Forbes – Cheryl Conner

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