Invention 101

March 1, 2006

Technology transfer experts at a panel discussion Feb. 17 urged Duke students and faculty members to speed their research to its potential applications by thinking more like entrepreneurs. Commercialization benefits society by making novel discoveries and technologies available to the public, the group said.

The panel featured venture capital investor Brook Byers of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), of Menlo Park, Calif. KPCB partners have supported entrepreneurs in building hundreds of companies, including Google, and Genentech. Byers works closely with university researchers in commercializing cutting edge technology in the life sciences. Also on the panel was Rob Valli, director of The Kauffman Foundation, an organization dedicated to enhancing university entrepreneurship, and Donna Cookmeyer, associate director of Duke's Office of Licensing & Ventures.

The following represents the panel's top 10 recommendations for bringing research advances to market:

  • Opportunities for commercialization abound at universities. Take stock of the possibilities afforded by your research efforts.
  • Once you have an idea, ask yourself: Is it really that good? Remember that markets (and investors) will ultimately decide.
  • The science does not speak for itself. Rather, successful invention depends on interdisciplinary relationships founded on trust and respect. It's all about the team.
  • Avoid unnecessary complications by being completely open and honest with everyone involved up front.
  • Keep in mind that there are many sources of capital – venture capital firms, corporate investors, and – perhaps most importantly -- individuals.
  • Don't miss opportunities by holding out for the "perfect deal."
  • Plan carefully. While conflict of interest is a reality of entrepreneurship, the vast majority of all conflicts can be managed.
  • Be the champion of your technology. Do as much as you can to understand the commercialization process, rather than expecting others to do it for you.
  • Once a company is licensed, stay involved. A good way to do this is to "send someone over" – for example, a postdoc or a faculty member on sabbatical.
  • Don't over-think it. No one can predict which inventions will turn out to be the winners.

Byers also pointed audience members to The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Friedman, a book about globalization that he considers required reading.

The event was co-sponsored by the Pratt School of Engineering Master of Engineering Management Program, the Fuqua School of Business Health Sector Management Program and the Duke Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization.