By Whitney L.J. Howell

Before Barry Myers joined Duke University’s Office of Licensing and Ventures (OLV) as managing director, he spent years in academic research himself. Experiencing the struggles and challenges investigators face first-hand made him a natural at shepherding other faculty through the same processes.

“In the course of buying, selling, developing, or investing in novel life science technology, I hit certain milestones of programmatic success in licensing and ventures,” he said. “I built a skill set that was unique for this campus or for any campus in terms of understanding all the elements of science projects that are necessary to advance it into patient care.”

Myers launched his career in the early 1990s, bringing catastrophic head and neck injury research into the market. He later earned his master’s in business administration in 2004 and worked in venture capital for the life sciences. He also received a Duke Coulter Translational Partnership grant, combining life sciences, engineering, and medicine, as well as worked on a National Institutes of Health grant led by Duke cardiologist Rob Califf, M.D.

He’s since taken these experiences and applied them to creating a pro-innovation environment that invites faculty to test the entrepreneurial waters. He refers to the set-up as a fully-integrated silo-less incubator for undergraduates, graduate students, project managers, and leaders.

“This structure allows us to take an idea at any stage through to clinical study and funding. That’s kind of unusual,” he said. “Duke is unique.”

With support from the Duke Coulter Translational Partnership, the OLV invests $1.7 million annually in faculty plans. The result, to date, he said, has been a half-dozen spin-out companies and a half-dozen licenses brought into the marketplace.

It’s his ability to help faculty piece together the entrepreneurial puzzle – the translational aspects and the nitty-gritty licensing details – that has made him successful in his role. Along with other OLV staff, he leaves no faculty member to traverse the process alone.

“With this skill set and experience doing deals, it made sense to come to OLV,” he said. “In a sense, I’m, quite literally, bringing the novel integration engineering, medicine, basic science, clinical medicine, and translational institutions into one functioning entity.”

Under his leadership, OLV staff answer faculty questions, help individuals target the correct markets, teach faculty how to best protect their ideas, and lead them through and struggles associated with conflicts of interest. Myers refers to the OLV team as stewards who routinely advocate for the faculty, acting in everyone’s best interest while removing friction from the licensing and venture system.

“Our job as an institution – and my job – is to capture the experiential learning around innovation and convey that,” he said. “The Duke Coulter Translational Partnership is a water-shed event. It’s a vision of a team – not just scientists and clinics, but of project leaders, domain experts, and intellectual property experts – coming together in a single-focused, very deliberate path that is novel and replicable.”