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Helping Faculty Become Entrepreneurs

Published: 3 months ago | 0 comments

Duke I&E and Duke’s Office of Licensing and Ventures (OLV) help faculty turn technology into startup companies.

By Katie Jansen, Duke I&E

Duke is known for its stellar faculty and research – but what happens after a discovery is made in the lab? That’s when the Office of Licensing and Ventures and Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E) can help.

Duke I&E and OLV have partnered to form a committee that evaluates teams, looking at each team’s technology in every stage to make sure each team gets the resources they need.

OLV helps to protect discoveries made by faculty and then licenses them either to existing companies or to startup companies. In July, Robin Rasor joined OLV as executive director of the department, leaving a similar office at The University of Michigan.

In the past, OLV’s emphasis was more on licensing Duke technologies to existing companies, but Rasor wants her office to expand its services and support to also include startups.

This transition has led to a natural partnership with Duke I&E as the two entities begin to “work more hand-in-glove,” Rasor said.

We sat down with the directors of both departments – Eric Toone of Duke I&E and Robin Rasor of OLV – as well as people from both departments who help oversee new venture creation – Duke I&E’s Judd Staples and OLV’s Rob Hallford – to talk about how they work together to help faculty members become entrepreneurs.

How do Duke I&E and OLV work together?

Eric Toone: Both Duke I&E and OLV have always kept lists of faculty technologies currently in the works, but before Robin came on board, there was a lack of coordination between the two offices. We kept our lists separate, and once we shared these lists with each other, we realized how little overlap there was – we knew about technologies they didn’t, and vice versa.

But now, the overlap between our offices is 100 percent, which means that we’re working more collaboratively on supporting these faculty members. Gene Washington, Chancellor of Health Affairs at Duke, plans to hire a chief innovation officer soon, and we plan to work collaboratively with Duke Health, as well.

Resources have always existed separately in both offices, but now we’re breaking down silos and bringing the resources together to support faculty members’ entrepreneurial journeys more effectively.

Why are more faculty members looking toward entrepreneurship as a path for their technologies?

Robin Rasor: Across the country, university tech transfer offices are all noticing a trend in increased numbers of startup companies. Large, established companies don’t want to invest in early-stage technology, so they wait for spinouts to get their technology to a certain point and then they acquire the spinouts. And faculty are much more interested in participating in entrepreneurial activities than they were only five to 10 years ago.

Eric Toone: Duke I&E and OLV are working together to offer a robust set of resources to help faculty members become entrepreneurs. Once they use all those resources and launch a successful startup, there’s the potential of investment from the Duke Angel Network. Having an extremely active angel network located within the university has been an incredibly powerful incentive to encourage people to delve into the process of starting their own businesses.

How is OLV responding to increased demand from faculty for entrepreneurial opportunities?

Robin Rasor: Duke has a myriad of resources, as does the surrounding community, and faculty members don’t always know what’s available. OLV is here to help them navigate through the mix.

We created a new position filled by Rob Hallford to work with startups directly. One of the metrics of OLV’s success going forward will be our service and our participation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We need to be more service-oriented and more faculty-friendly and more startup-friendly, so if faculty are not getting the service they want, I want everybody to know they can come directly to me.

Since starting the job in July, I’ve been meeting with people both on campus and off – from department chairs to folks in the law clinic to local venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. We have developed a “hot list” of startup projects so that when we meet with investors, we can give them a quick summary of up and coming startups from Duke faculty. The venture capitalists can then choose which companies they’d like to receive updates about or directly get in touch with.

I’ve also been learning about OLV’s processes and figuring out what can be improved. First major initiatives: we’re updating our website to make it more user-friendly and include more information and resources. We’re also working on a beta test of a new internal database that will allow us to track our inventions, gather metrics more easily and assist in external marketing of our technologies.

Rob Hallford: As we think about the purpose of our organization, which is serving our faculty, a big part of that is supporting their desire to be entrepreneurs and giving them the resources to succeed and the information that they need.

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