Joe Jilka, Ph.D.
That federal government funding of basic research has been held at steady levels or is only slightly increasing is now a fact of life. Researchers in turn have had to become increasingly creative in seeking funding. Unrelated with this trend, industry research and development has also undergone profound changes. Facing expiration of key patents and thinning product pipelines, companies to a large part have turned to academic research collaborations, licensing, and investment in startups arising from academic research. Also, companies now not only offer capital for these early-stage companies but can also provideaccess to a wealth of market, discovery, and development expertise. Often these investments and relationships and can lead to additional investments by private equity firms.
Many collaborations between companies and academic researchers are initiated byindustry scientists or industry scouts looking for specific technologies or expertise. Companies constantly scan the literature for the latest on their market areas. However, there is no need to waitfor industry to come knocking at your door. There are several ways to connect with industry.
- Many universities already have industry-funded programs or alliances in place that may be a potential source of funding. Often the university maintains an industry alliance officewho are happy to help guide researchers toward industry collaborations. Get to know these people as many companies come to visit the university that are hosted by these offices. Moreover, the industry alliance people know a lot of people including the industry technology scouts and will be happy to introduce you. Industry alliance personnel are there to assist you from beginning of a relationship with industry to end. They can assist in early discussions to proposal submission, negotiations, and post award processing.
- Do your homework to understand who might be interested in your work! Not every company may be interested in your work. Most companies have very detailed websites covering partnering with the company and post their areas of interest. For example, Astra-Zeneca (https://www.astrazeneca.com/Partnering.html) has a very nice detailed webpage detailing their interests as well as way to get in touch with them. Search through companies that are in your area, e.g. pharmaceutical, and compile a list of companies that might have a mutual interest in your research area.Additionally, search those companies' Web sites for faculty fellowships and for competitive requests for proposals (RFPs).
- At scientific or other meetings, be on the lookout for attendees from the companies that you think might have an interest in your work. If the attendee list is available before the meeting, scan the list for these companies and even make appointments to meet during the meeting. People from industry are very happy to do this and they themselves are also looking for potential contacts. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet with someone from your targeted companies.Have a short one-page nonconfidential summary of your work with your contact information that you can handout whether at your poster in the hallways. Don’t be shy, sell yourself and your work!
- Build personal relationships! Like all good things, relationships can take time and build over time. Often these relationships with contacts in the industry can turn into friendships. Try to understand the research and products issues they face and be prepared to show them how your research program can help overcome those challenges. Show them how they will get something out of the deal. A personal contact within the company can champion your work and keep things moving.
In some cases, the commercialization of the results of your work may appropriately be moved forward in a new startup venture.
- Before embarking on this (ad)venture make sure that you have filed an invention disclosure with the university technology transfer office. The invention disclosure is a formal process for notifying the university that you may have an invention arising from your work. The licensing professionals can evaluate the potential inventiveness of your work and if is warranted, they can file the necessary applications to protect the inventions in your work. Such protection, known as patents, is necessary to justify the resources that will be needed to bring your invention to the market.
- Have the technology transfer office prepare a nonconfidential disclosure (NCD) for you. A NCD is a short marketing piece that has enough details to interest a potential partner or investor without giving away the “secret sauce” that is the invention. This NCD can then be handed out to potential funders, collaborators, or investors. Details can be shared later is there is an interest under confidentiality agreements.
HLTH.co is one of these events – with corporates, government, and investors for all stages, all sizes of innovations and businesses. To promote your discoveries – go to https://hlth.co/hlth-academic-discoveries/.
- Attend meetings that are frequented by the funders such as angel groups or venture capital firms. If the attendee list is available, make appointments ahead of time to visit with these people. Carry it with you and use the NCD as a calling card to briefly acquaint them with the technology. Write and memorize a short elevator pitch so that if you spontaneously meet someone, you can clearly and succinctly give them a synopsis of your invention and its possible markets.
- Funders in a new venture can not only bring funds, expertise, and management to a new venture but also bring sponsored research dollars to your lab.
- Above all, build relationships with funders. Most investments are the result of long relationship with a funder who has come to know you and your inventions. These relationships take time so be patient and communicate or visit with these contacts one a regular basis.
In summary, whether you are seeking sponsored research funding for your research program or funding for a new venture, there are several key elements to keep in mind:
ü Above all don’t be shy about selling yourself and your research program!
ü Understand your audience whether it’s industry or investors. Show how your work can solve a key challenge for them or for the market.
ü Be patient! Everything revolves around relationships and take the time to cultivate meaningful productive relationships.
Dr. Joe Jilka is a biotech entrepreneur who is passionate about the interface between the university and industry. He frequently consults with brand new startups to help them off the starting line and is available for consulting in this space.