By Barbara Hale
A new Research Commercialization Office has been established by Rodney A. Erickson, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School, to assist in the commercialization of Penn State-developed technologies and to support the University's existing research and technology transfer activities -- including the Intellectual Property and Industrial Research units and the Ben Franklin Technology Center.
The new office is under the direction of Dan Leri, former director of new business development for Penn State's Ben Franklin Technology Center.
The establishment of the new office was one of a series of recommendations offered in the final report of the Task Force on Research Administration and Technology Transfer, released in January this year.
Leri said the new office would:
-- promote new ventures and the start up of new companies in order to assist faculty and staff members in commercializing knowledge.
-- provide a university interface with multiple sources of early stage capital, such as seed funding programs, angel investors, venture capital funds, etc.
-- assist new ventures by identifying mentors and management team members to accelerate new company growth
Among the resources available to assist faculty and staff entrepreneurs is space for start-up companies in the Zetachron Center for Science and Technology Business Development. The 10,700-square-foot facility contains a 50/50 ratio of offices to lab space, including five "wet labs" appropriate for biological or chemical-based businesses. The labs can accommodate up to five early stage companies and the offices up to three additional businesses. The building, located off campus on Science Park Road in State College, was a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Wally Snipes and family.
Nina Fedoroff, director of Penn State's Life Sciences Consortium and Biotechnology Institute, spearheaded the effort to develop "wet lab" resources for Penn State entrepreneurs.
"This type of facility is important to commercialization efforts in the life sciences because it allows a business started by a university researcher to move out of the university laboratory, as it should, and continue to do the experimental work necessary for product development," Fedoroff said.
She added that the life sciences at Penn State will benefit from commercialization activities not only because successful commercialization has the potential to be another source of support for academic research but also because it is compatible with the educational mission.
Fedoroff, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and national advocate for educational modernization, noted that commercialization activities and the Zetachron facility provide new opportunities for students that will better prepare them for the business world.
To guide faculty and staff members in the entrepreneurial process the Research Commercialization Office will use a new approach called the Gateways Program.
"Over the past year, working with a task force composed of faculty and staff members, we've put together a business development process based on a method employed in the private sector," Leri said. "The new program is designed to deliver services, such as business and financial support, operating space and management assistance, at the appropriate points in the business development process."
The Gateways Program will provide a "pathway" to business start up with defined stages to help guide the entrepreneur. In addition, the program will not only assist the discoverer or entrepreneur seeking to start or accelerate the development of a business but also will provide an entry point for investors trying to locate investment and commercialization opportunities at Penn State.
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