Friday, June 01, 2007

GMU Seeking Donations for Tech Transfer

GMU turns to the public to help fund tech innovation
Washington Business Journal - May 25, 2007
by Vandana Sinha
Staff Reporter

George Mason University wants to close the gap between a professor's idea of groundbreaking research and an entrepreneur's idea of a viable startup.

And the Fairfax university is appealing to the public's benevolent side to come up with the cash to do it.

GMU is launching a fundraising campaign in July for its new technology transfer fund -- one that would serve as a source of philanthropic grants rather than of venture capital.

The pot of funding would help the university's tech transfer office do work such as building a prototype or conducting market research to prove a patented idea worthy of formal investing and licensing, ultimately easing the process of spinning out promising young companies.

"We have a lot of things sitting on a shelf, if you will -- things that have been invented, things that have been patented, but need a little bit of work," said Jerry Coughter, GMU's assistant vice president for regional economic development. "This is a pool of money that could be applied to that."

The university is starting out modestly. Its initial goal is $50,000, but university leaders harbor long-term hopes of an annual campaign that rakes in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The university's tech transfer office, which works with GMU's life sciences and the engineering and information technology colleges, would apply for funding when it comes across discoveries that could set commercial cash registers ringing.

The university envisions starting with grants in light doses, $2,500 to $5,000, to aid academic research that needs only preliminary work -- like market analysis, risk assessment or prototype specifications -- to catch a venture capitalist's eye. Later they would increase the dosage to $25,000 to $50,000 for research that needs a working prototype, detailed business plan or preclinical animal studies.

While the dollar amounts are meek, Jonathan Aberman, the advisory board's chairman, said they are enough to muscle an infant company forward. "You can get a lot done for a small amount of money," said Aberman, co-founder and managing director of Amplifier Venture Partners LP, an early-stage venture fund based in McLean.

University leaders see this program, already dubbed Invention to Innovation, as a significant step up from their current method of foraging for licensers for faculty research: "by hook or by crook." That's how Jennifer Murphy, director of the university's tech transfer office, described it. "It's very hard to find a company willing to develop that technology so early," she said.

The university will approach foundations, companies and individuals to marshal the funds, then will send them updates on the companies they essentially sponsor.

But they are patently clear about the fund's purpose. Entities are giving to it charitably. They are not investing for a piece of the company or a return on their dollars.

No comments: