University Spin-Offs (1): The vaunted gates creak open and entrepreneurs peer inside

Cambridge university gate

This is part of my Series on University Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs lurking within the hallowed halls of the academy? An oxymoron for centuries no doubt. An outrage, even, for some purists. 

It all began for me some six years ago when a colleague invited me onto an ivy league campus to introduce me to the university's technology transfer office.  The what? I had never heard of such a thing! Once I entered however, I was stunned by what I saw. An entire universe of innovation and technology at its most nascent, rawest stage. Hundreds of technlogies, hundreds of millions of dollars in research funding pouring into a multitude of labs each year, a host of brilliant minds and nobel laureates feverishly at work. Yes it was raw and savage- but beautiful too in a way. It was like entering the Thunderdome in MadMax- you know, "two men enter, one man leaves".

I was the one who stayed for a while....

Since that day I've been enmeshed in the arcane world of university spin-offs (on both sides of the table) and have actively been involved in spinning out approximately 35 such start-ups based on university intellectual property (IP). It is an absolutely  fascinating and rapidly growing field, a sub-set of university tech transfer but an increasingly important one. If university tech transfer is only 28 years old, (its birthday was the passage of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980), then university spin-offs must just be entering their teen-age years by now.

In a sense, those of us who participate either as investors/entrepreneurs or as the new ventures specialists within universities, are writing the story of university spin-offs as we speak.  Some universities are farther along down this road than others, but more and more university tech transfer offices are realizing the advantages of having a dedicated Start-Ups/New Ventures program run by an entrepreneur/investor-type focused on cultivating the investment community and spinning out companies based on university intellectual property.

In this series I'll be writing about the phenomenon and practice of spinning-out companies from the academy. Please join if you're interested. The imposing old gates have definitely creaked open and the call has gone out to entrepreneurs:

"Welcome to Thunderdome"... let's have some fun inside.


For Part Two in this Series, click here.


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