Tech transfer newbie relates her first experience at AUTM’s annual conference
by Catherine Murari-Kanti, UNeMed | April 19, 2017
My last experience at a conference involved standing in front of a scientific poster for hours, and listening to scientific talks that almost always went over the allotted time. I remember the atmosphere as closed-off and secretive. I was warned not to share data or information about the science I was working on. I vividly remember standing in the hallway thinking, “This is not where I want be.”
That was so 2014.
I am now a Licensing Associate now at UNeMed Corporation, the technology transfer office at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. UNeMed gave me the opportunity to attend Association of University Technology Managers’ 2017 Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Fla. I noticed a stark difference in cultures between the two conferences.
AUTM 2017 was an open environment that involved sharing each other’s expertise, and a desire to see others succeed. This was evident in the first-time attendee’s reception where I met a dozen people who willingly took the time to get to know me, ask questions about my role at UNeMed and provide tech transfer career development advice. I interacted with industry and seasoned tech transfer professionals, and I enjoyed talking to them. They shared with me their journey, and warned me of pitfalls they experienced.
Overall, the atmosphere was one of interaction, learning and growth.
Of the many sessions I attended, a few stood out:
1. I learned about the innovation life cycle, and how important it is to communicate effectively within and out of the technology transfer office. The panelists did an exceptional job during the session, “Telling and Re-telling your Office’s Story.” They shared how their offices amplified the story of each invention, and how they aligned it with the University’s mission. They shared timelines, expressed the importance of reciprocal relationships with University public relations as well as local news media. They stressed the need to generate technology content on their websites, and allow inventors to tell their stories. The panelists were Quentin Thomas, Marketing Manager at Emory University; Paul Tumarkin, Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at Tech Launch Arizona; and Sara Dagen, Technical Editor at the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing.
2. The other session I really enjoyed was, “Communication skills for Licensing Professionals,” by Julie Watson, Special Counsel at Marshall Gerstein IP; Lina Axanova, Associate Director at Penn Center for Innovation; Leef Smith Barnes, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at AUTM; and John Christie, Executive Director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Intellectual Property Development at Tulane University . This was important to me as a beginner in tech transfer because it taught me how to interpret scientific, legal and business languages. They shared nuggets of wisdom pertaining to listening, business email etiquette, negotiation language and conflict resolution. I learned that communication mostly involves active listening, and practicing firm but empathetic conversations.
3. Another panel—Christopher Noble, Technology Licensing Officer at MIT; Kathleen Denis, Associate VP at Rockefeller University; Duke Leahey, Founder of Nidus Investments; and Kelly Sexton, Asst. Vice Chancellor for Technology Commercialization and New Ventures at North Carolina State University—discussed different methods of collaborating with companies for industry sponsored research. They talked about deciding who should be the Chief Executive Officer of a startup: the student or the principle investigator? They shed light on the various intellectual property obstacles that tech transfer offices run into during industry sponsored research as well as when setting up a new company. The panelists spent significant time on de-risking technologies before presenting to industry, which I thought was important and significant as I start my career.
4. UNeMed President and CEO, Michael Dixon, was one of the panelists—along with Alicia Loffler, Associate Provost for Innovation and New Ventures at Northwestern University; Lesley Millar-Nicholson, Director at MIT’s Technology Licensing Office; and Neil Veloso, Executive Director of Technology Transfer at Johns Hopkins University —in the session, “Creating a Sustainable Culture for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” Each panelist gave a short talk about their various programs to improve faculty engagement and invention reporting. They stressed the importance of developing an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset within local communities that, in turn, would produce angel investors and startups. They shared ideas and programs that provided tech transfer resources to their students, post-docs and faculty.
5. The innovation keynote speaker, Kavita Shukla, mesmerized the audience with her captivating story of innovation and entrepreneurship. She talked about her innovation, FreshPaper, and the arduous task of establishing a startup company, Fenugreen. FreshPaper is bio-degradable paper infused with organic spices and herbs that inhibit bacterial and fungal growth providing an effective solution to food spoilage. Fenugreen is a social enterprise taking on the massive global challenge of food waste with a simple innovation.
She said she avoided a serious case of traveler diarrhea when she visited India at the age of 12, because of a spice-filled drink her grandmother gave her. The drink then led her to develop FreshPaper in her garage. She talked about being a gawky 16-year-old, “walking into the patent office” to file her first patent on FreshPaper. She dreamed of providing food to nations that didn’t have refrigeration. “Doubt kills more dreams than failure will,” she said. And she shared how she pushed through every obstacle thrown at her.
She challenged individuals to dream, to design new products and to talk to everyone possible about their ideas until they can find someone that can help them move forward. She was glad for the existence of tech transfer offices because she believes they have the power to support these dreams and ideas, and make innovation happen.
Her talk encouraged me as a woman, and as a tech transfer professional, to support other women to succeed and become innovators and entrepreneurs.