From Lab Bench to Marketplace
Since 2008, the Office of Commercialization Alliances and Innovation has been building a foundation for Technology Commercialization at UTSA. Two key elements of the ecosystem introduced by this office to the UTSA campus are Proof-of-Concept (POC) funds and the New Venture Incubator (NVI), both of which will help move innovative research from the lab bench to the marketplace.
This country has a long and proud history of significant milestones in technological innovation that have influenced and enabled economic growth, military capability and political leadership in the world. The individuals and organizations in this country who can take the seed of an innovation or a new idea and create new technologies, products and services that feed the economic engine are key to creating new ventures, jobs and long-term prosperity. In fact, the State of Texas and The University of Texas System view this ability to commercialize innovations as a priority for UTSA and other UT academic institutions.
Translating Research Beyond the Basic
Traditional university models have focused on research which results in publications as a primary outcome for advancing a field’s body of knowledge. Many times this research may have the potential to lead to a new product or service, but development of that new product or service and moving it from lab bench to marketplace has not been in the realm of the researchers. Research grants fund basic research but do not provide funding to develop a prototype or test an invention. By enabling researchers to translate their work beyond the basic research, UTSA Proof-of-Concept (POC) funds provide the means to demonstrate the application of an innovation. UTSA POC funds have supported more than a dozen projects on campus which have led to a pipeline of new products, including:
- A device for high-throughput screening of drugs
- Four lead candidate antifungal drugs
- A SIDS monitor for premature babies
- A device for helping with bone growth, and
- A new method for protecting IT networks from attacks.
The commercialization of these innovations can then follow one of two paths, either licensing the invention to an existing company or supporting the launch of a new start-up venture. While the licensing of innovative drugs and vaccines to large pharmaceutical companies can be fairly straightforward, most innovations require further development beyond the POC to demonstrate functionality and market acceptance before being acquired by a larger firm. The UTSA New Venture Incubator (NVI) was set up for this purpose.
Steps in Developing the Product or Service
The NVI provides laboratory and office space on campus for continuing the development of an innovative product or service as a new company. Once in the NVI, these companies can work with the Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) to develop business plans; South Texas Technology Management (STTM) to build their patent portfolio; the Institute for Economic Development (IED) to build regional and trans-border trade capabilities, and Startech to access investment capital networks. Currently, the NVI has two biomedical companies in residence, one focused on novel bone repairs and the other on natural antiviral drugs. The pipeline of UTSA start-ups also includes four more faculty companies in their early start-up stages (pre-NVI) and five student companies in the Roadrunner incubator, a student version of the NVI run by the CITE. The NVI is currently located in the SRL on the west campus.
By establishing POC funds and the NVI, UTSA has created a direct link between research and commercialization that will help build the regional economy and, through licensing, provide additional means to grow the university’s capabilities.