Whether it’s evaluating early-stage technologies, helping position start-up projects, or participating in investment decisions, Duke students, trainees, and early-career faculty and staff add depth to OTC’s ability to commercialize Duke innovations.
Some technologies have a clear path to commercialization, be it through a previous sponsored research contract or consulting connection between an inventor and industry. However, for many others the road is harder to see. To help those projects, OTC works to engage inventors and their technology projects earlier, in a holistic way, to chart a successful course to the marketplace.
These technologies may be in the form of early prototype of a medical device, a small molecule that looks promising in early animal studies, a new material for more efficient water filtration, an alpha version of a software, or any number of innovations. Each has a unique project timeline, stage of development, and possible partnership opportunities – and it takes a village to dissect the science and figure out with whom and how to discuss the potential benefits and advantages each technology carries.
OTC is building that village and providing new opportunities for our students to participate in all aspects of the innovation and commercialization process. These student teams include talented Duke graduate students, post-docs, and early-career faculty and staff who combine their unique expertise with training from OTC to bolster our capabilities and gain new skills and networks for themselves.
OTC Fellows, primarily science and engineering graduate students and postdocs, engage with Duke technologies at the earliest stage of our process, when an invention disclosure is submitted to our office. These fellows are trained to evaluate a technology’s market potential and the patent and competitive landscape and generate a technology and marketing assessment document for each technology. This document serves as an invaluable tool for the licensing manager, inventors, and patent attorney to develop and implement protection, marketing, and commercialization strategies. In FY22, more than one-half of disclosed technologies received tech assessments from the OTC Fellows.
OTC Fellows also assist in marketing early-stage technologies with potential industry partners by creating initial marketing materials used for both passive marketing on OTC’s publicly accessible Available Technologies database, and by identifying company targets for direct outreach to solicit interest and feedback.
“Duke’s OTC Fellow program is an incredible resource to OTC as well as the university overall,” said Galo Mejia, Technology Marketing Associate and OTC Fellows Program co-director. “Our Fellows’ hard work allows us to bring value to our industry relationships and informs the way we manage Duke’s intellectual property. It’s also a unique experience for the Fellows: it gives them a peek behind the curtain of technology commercialization and is a great introduction to careers outside of academia.”
With the OTC Fellows’ help, the Technology Marketing team was able to share over 200 technologies with 645 companies around the world in FY22, resulting in about 40 new engagements with industry, and leading to four option agreements and one sponsored research agreement. The continual conversations and feedback received from industry also provide invaluable insight on market and technology trends and conditions that help in the management of our technology portfolio, ultimately saving the office and inventors time and money to focus on more commercially attractive technology development.
While they provide invaluable support for OTC when they are going through the program, OTC Fellows also gain highly marketable tech transfer experience. Former OTC Fellows have found themselves in patent specialist roles at large biotech companies, working in executive level positions in start-ups, as consultants in large and boutique firms, and more.
For some technologies, the path forward may lead toward spinning out a new company, or start-up. OTC’s New Ventures team provides Duke inventors with a variety of services related to start-up creation, resulting in the formation of 14 new companies in FY22.
New Ventures also has their own fellows program: New Venture Fellows. These Fellows participate as part of a collaboration with the Fuqua School of Business and contribute the experience and skills to help Duke founders build pitch decks, business and financial plans, market assessments, and more.
“The New Venture Fellow program provides our MBA students the hands-on opportunity to work closely with both a technical founder and a highly experienced industry executive (Duke Mentor-in-Residence) to help birth a new start-up company based on Duke technology,” said Jeff Welch, Director of New Ventures. “It is the only program of its kind in the country, a unique opportunity to learn valuable strategic marketing skills in a live-fire exercise at an early career stage.”
In FY22, 15 New Venture Fellows paired up with 14 potential start-up projects. Previous New Venture Fellows have gone on to careers in corporate development, strategic marketing, and executive roles at some of the most innovative technology and biotechnology companies in the world.
Capital is an essential part of start-up formation and growth. The Duke Angel Network (DAN) brings Duke investors together with Duke entrepreneurs to fund and support their early-stage start-ups. DAN’s impact on the Duke innovation ecosystem is undeniable: the Network has made capital commitments of more than $50 million in over 40 portfolio companies, with a total enterprise value surpassing $4 billion.
DAN also shares OTC’s mission of early engagement with Duke innovators. Its support of portfolio companies goes far beyond the capital it provides them. DAN leverages a powerful Duke network, which brings thought leadership and deep sector expertise to help its portfolio founders, and their companies, to reach their full potential. By making early investments in Duke-related companies, as well as by matching advisors and board members with the start-ups, DAN maximizes the impact these groundbreaking innovations can have on society.
Core to DAN’s work is the DAN student Associate program. DAN Associates are given the opportunity to learn about venture capital by participating in every aspect of the investment process, including deal sourcing, screening, and diligence. Since 2015, more than 80 Associates have received training on essential topics relevant to early-stage investing.
“The DAN Associate program has long been integral to the work we do,” said Kurt Schmidt, Managing Director of Duke Angel Network. “Our Associates join us from diverse disciplines across the university to learn – and actively engage in – the venture capital lifecycle. Student Associates roll up their sleeves on real, live investments, augmenting their classroom case studies. The DAN Associate program is unique among universities and our students complete their two years with experience that would be difficult to obtain anywhere else in graduate school.”
In FY22, 23 DAN Associates from Fuqua, Law, Pratt, and DUHS evaluated 795 investment opportunities, and helped author 17 diligence reports under the direction of the DAN team. DAN Associates gain invaluable experience and are prepared to compete for highly sought-after roles across the innovation economy. DAN Associates have gone on to careers in venture capital and private equity, founded start-ups, and joined executive ranks across many disciplines.
You can read more about DAN in a separate post welcoming them to OTC.
In FY22, OTC also explored how to expand the scope of experiences and cross-pollination among the fellows programs.
For highly technical and longer-term early-stage technology projects, OTC assigns an OTC Senior Fellow to support more detailed analysis and marketing. For example, an OTC Senior Fellow worked with a faculty team to perform and analyze primary market research on a new medical device. The surgeons wanted to understand if their conception of the unmet need and potential solution matched the actual clinical experience of the providers who would use this device, an intravascular oxygenator catheter that can serve as a stopgap for a patient enroute to a location with ECMO capabilities.
“It’s been very exciting to help contribute to commercialization strategies for this technology,” said Ellery Jones, OTC Senior Fellow and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Working directly with inventors has been an invaluable experience that highlights the important role of clinical researchers in developing new insights and inventions for the future of healthcare.”
“Working with Ellery via OTC has been a great example of the supportive commercialization ecosystem that exists at Duke,” said Dr. Tobias Straube, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and co-inventor of the technology. “This infrastructure allows inventors to focus on their tech while simultaneously tackling the commercialization milestones early-on which are required to bring innovation to the bedside. Ellery’s scientific background positions her nicely to jump on a project and quickly add value to the work.”
It truly takes a village to guide technologies to market, and our trainee Fellows and Associates are an increasingly important part of that village. Not only do we hope they acquire the skills that will make them effective inventors, investors, and innovators into the future, but we also hope they build lasting connections within their programs and beyond, such as with the UNC entrepreneurial trainees through networking and career development events as part of our joint U.S. Economic Development Agency Sprint Challenge Award.
OTC is reaching out and staying in touch with students as they graduate and start their careers. In FY22, we began work with the Innovation & Entrepreneurship group to expand their new Duke Entrepreneurial Leaders Network, a group of exciting and engaged entrepreneurial alumni – which just had its first in-person annual meeting earlier in October.
Whether it’s improving our ability to get our early technologies to the marketplace or increasing our students’ experiences within the innovation and entrepreneurship process, OTC looks forward to continuing to grow early engagement with the Duke innovation ecosystem.