Finding the Right Commercial Partner: Role of the Faculty Innovator

BLG Director (320x240)
Dr. Michael Dilling, BLG Director

Academic technology commercialization is a relationship-driven enterprise. While BLG directly reaches out to companies that we think may present attractive candidates for a commercial partnership, almost all successful licensing and industry-sponsored research transactions involve an ongoing, engaged partnership between the faculty innovator, the company and their BLG project manager. Your level of engagement is directly proportional to success.

As a faculty member at Baylor College of Medicine, you have a high degree of expertise in your field of study. You are a thought and opinion leader and your publications are frequently followed by your peers in industry. You may have friends, colleagues and contacts who work in industry. Actively cultivating these industry relationships can pay dividends in terms of future partnerships with industry. Your contacts and your industry relationships are often the most valuable tool in terms of initiating and catalyzing a commercial partnership to advance your research or to develop an intellectual property asset from your laboratory. In order for a company to make a commitment to license intellectual property or to support research in your laboratory, there must be an internal champion at the company who actively advocates for the project.

What Can a Faculty Innovator Do to Help Cultivate Industry Relationships?

Prepare an elevator pitch: Be able to succinctly describe in lay terms the problem solved by your technology. Your industry contact may not have the same level of technical expertise that you do (or they may have expertise in a different field of study).

Don’t drown them in data: Focus on the key experiment that makes the point regarding the value of your technology. If they find the result to be compelling, they’ll eventually ask to see more.

Listen to your industry colleagues: Ask them about their needs. What pressing problems are they trying to solve? How might your technology or research program address their problem?

Have additional information ready: When your industry colleague expresses interest, be ready to supply them with additional information in the form of a non-confidential summary (your BLG project manager will work with you to prepare this) or a publication. Don’t share confidential unpublished data/information with industry colleagues unless there is a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) in place. Your BLG project manager will work with you to get a CDA in place with the company if needed. Most savvy industry colleagues won’t ask to see unpublished data in the absence of a CDA. But, be careful to protect your interests.

Keep your BLG project manager looped in regarding your discussions with industry colleagues: The process works when the flow of communication is strong. Keep your BLG project manager informed. If you share confidential information or data with an industry colleague in the absence of an appropriate CDA, it can be very challenging (and not always possible) to clean this up after the fact.

Be patient: Even when companies express interest, they may be considering many collaborative opportunities. They’re looking at how these candidate relationships or technologies can add value to the company to improve the bottom line. The existence of an internal champion within the company is a must in order to get results. It can take a number of years from the point at which an industry relationship is initiated until they decide to move forward and execute a license agreement or a sponsored research agreement.

BLG is committed to help you maximize the impact of your research program through a commercial relationship with the right partner. The importance of your role in the process cannot be overstated. Active partnership, engagement and communication are all necessary to produce success.

- Michael Dilling