By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) has a goal of seeing more companies created around the expertise of its faculty and staff.
With that goal in mind, the Institute has launched an effort encompassing companies that are started based on patents and copyrights generated as well as what might best be described as the non-patentable value of UTIA expertise.
“UTIA faculty are very mission-oriented in their approach,” Bill Brown, Dean of Research, says. “They want to see the results of their research extended to the marketplace to improve people’s lives. Some research projects may have immediate application while others may provide partial solutions to problems whose application is in the future.”
Brown says the common theme is that there is an end use in mind.
“Land grant institutions such as the University of Tennessee must be a driver of economic development for the state,” he says. “We see this initiative as a mechanism to advance new technologies and ideas from the lab to the market.”
To help with the effort, Brown has hired Joy Fisher part-time. She certainly knows the space, having worked for two University entities – the UT Research Foundation (UTRF) and the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation – as well as Tech 2020.
Until recently, Fisher was President and Chief Executive Officer of an Oak Ridge-based start-up named Clodico. The last 12 months have been challenging for the effervescent Fisher, as we chronicled in a recent teknovation.biz post.
Now back in the workforce, she could not be more excited about her latest opportunity.
“We’re trying to find a mechanism to accelerate ideas coming out of UTIA,” Fisher says. The search involves frequent meetings with UTIA faculty and staff to understand their ideas and determine the probability of a commercial pathway.
It could be something that is disclosed to the UTRF or it could be an idea that cannot be protected but could still be pursued.
“There are a lot of ideas that don’t have IP, but could be a business that generates revenue and visibility for UT,” Fisher explains. Because the ideas cannot be protected, she is reluctant to divulge much information about opportunities she has found thus far, saying only that one approach she is exploring with UTIA leadership could be unique within a university.
For those who follow higher education, UT President Joe DiPietro has challenged his leadership team to be more entrepreneurial in their approaches to finding new revenues that don’t depend on new state funding or student tuition increases.
This effort clearly falls within that entrepreneurial approach.
Fisher cited one opportunity that she vetted and discarded. It involved an idea to improve the reading of a golf green through use of a golf ball embedded with a gyroscope and sensors.
“The IP that UT had was not unique, and it would trample on other IP in the marketplace,” she said.
As she assists UTIA, Fisher emphasizes that she is also working very closely with UTRF staff. She sees her work as complementary to the efforts of the UTRF team.
“Researchers need someone to help guide them through this exploratory process,” Fisher explains, characterizing the undertaking as pre-IP. Those ideas that can be protected will be disclosed to UTRF.