Deal Terms for University Spin-Offs

Oxford cool crowned head

This is part of my Series on University Entrepreneurship.

 Everyone asks about deal terms at some point, so we may as well address it sooner than later. Let’s say you’ve now visited a few tech transfer offices and you are ready to talk to their New Ventures person about spinning out some IP into a start-up.  What kind of deal terms should you be looking for?

The reality is that every deal is different and so it’s difficult to generate a one-size-fits-all response. Also be mindful that university tech transfer offices across the country vary greatly in their approach to start-ups.

Here are some very general guidelines to a fair deal that you may find helpful, however:

  • In most cases you should obtain an exclusive license to the technology in the fields in which you intend to operate
  • In most cases you should seek to back-end the economics of the deal and stay away from high up-front license fees
  • You should be prepared to partner with the university and let it have an equity stake in the company. (We will have a separate series of posts on equity considerations as there are many nuances here).
  • You should mutually agree to some diligence milestones that lay-out time-lines for things like first product sale and in some cases capital-raised or revenue targets. These should have built-in flexibility and not be harsh
  • Royalties depend a great deal on the industry in which you’ll be operating but should never be a yoke around your neck- allowing you to operate with a comfortable margin

If you’re not getting a deal done that reflects a win-win you should quickly move on, but such negative outcomes are less and less frequent. More and more offices understand the challenges of launching a start-up and, when a talented entrepreneur is at the table, increasingly have the right approach.


For Part Nine in this Series, click here

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