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November 14, 2023 | Tom Ballard

UTK launching new tech commercialization courses

The first course is titled “Introduction to Technology Commercialization” and will be offered on Tuesday nights beginning in the Spring Semester.

Shawn Carson, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), says there were two drivers for the two new graduate courses that the department will offer beginning in the Spring Semester.

Both are focused on technology commercialization and came about from two complementary but separate initiatives. One was UTK’s new Strategic Vision, unveiled two years ago, that included a variety of bold ideas such as increasing the number of:

  • Start-ups created and supported annually by 200 percent, growing from 34 to 100;
  • Provisional and utility patents filed annually by 20 percent, an increase from 78 annually to 94;
  • Patents issued annually by 20 percent, an increase of four from the current 18 to 22; and
  • Licenses/options executed annually by 25 percent, an increase of five from the current 21 to 26.
Shawn Carson

As a longtime player in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, Carson knew that it would require some really enhanced efforts to reach those goals. He started talking with Maha Krishnamurthy at the UT Research Foundation (UTRF) about how those goals were going to be achieved. Then, soon after Russell Crook was named head of the department on July 1, 2022, the latter convened a new strategic planning committee that Carson says identified tech commercialization as the top need.

So, after more than a year of planning, graduate students can now enroll in the first course titled “Introduction to Technology Commercialization.” It is a three-hour course that will be offered on Tuesday nights for up to 30 students.

What is technology commercialization? In short, it’s the process of transitioning technologies from the research lab to the marketplace. Ensuring the technology is a viable product is what we call TechDev and then bringing that the technology to the market and validating that it is needed and accessible to customers is what we call BizDev.

“It will be inclusive and interdisciplinary, just like the UTK entrepreneurship undergraduate minor,” Carson says. That means it is open to students across the campus, not just those in the Haslam College of Business.

The second course – “New Venture Planning” – will be offered in Fall 2024, and Carson says the plan is to add two or three additional courses that he hopes will eventually lead to a certificate program.

He hopes those who enroll in the courses will have a technology that they want to commercialize. If not, UTRF will make one available. Also, those who enroll in the first course will be expected to participate in UTK’s “I-Corps Mid-South” three-week sprint that is focused on customer discovery and the business model canvas.

In developing the curriculum, the planning team benchmarked two other universities – Purdue (“Innovation and Commercialization Graduate Certificate”) and North Carolina State (“Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Certificate Program.”)

The promotional flyer (Tech-Commercialization-Flyer) explains that the goal of the courses is to help graduate students with technical expertise learn the entrepreneurial process that moves from ideation into opportunity recognition and business model development, operations, finance and funding sources, and growth strategies for the technology.

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