A course at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona serves as a bridge to connect inventors to their products’ commercialization.
Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization is a graduate-level course — described as the only one of its kind in Arizona — and is offered once a year.
The course is cross-listed with various departments, which allowed for a diverse class, not one with solely graduate business students.
Thirty graduate and doctorate students from different areas like music, engineering, law, library science and business sit in on professor Art Padilla‘s class once a week, earning three credit hours.
Being in a room with students from all different disciplines can be a challenge.
“I thought I was going to be a fish out of water here,” said Christina Wyles, a library and information science graduate student. “But, the team effort really makes a difference.”
The class is broken up into five teams, each team made up of students from different departments.
“The real cool thing about having this diversity of kids in there is that the science guys can sort of understand what the guy (inventor) is talking about on your team, and then they can explain that to you (a student from a different discipline),” Padilla said.
Padilla said that he develops lectures so they are more comprehensible for students with no business experience, which may seem like a slower pace for some business students. But, for the business students who do not understand the technology or patent process, they can turn to law, engineering or science students.
“It’s a win-win all the way around,” Padilla said.
Inventions and technologies sit in university labs or clinics around the country and some never make it into the market.
About $650 million a year is spent on research at the UA, according to Padilla. But, the university makes less than $1 million a year in revenues from the licenses, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Brookings Institution, a private nonprofit organization focused on research and innovative policy solutions, released a study saying many universities cannot undergo the technology transfer process alone and fail to ever turn their research into cash.
Padilla asked himself, ‘Why can’t we allow universities to patent that research and those inventions in the labs that no one ever sees, and see if they can make some money out of them and that way get it out into the public sector?’
This commercialization course, is Padilla’s idea of working towards connecting the research to the market, without it getting lost and stuck in what he calls, “the valley of death.”
The first few weeks of class, students listen to lecture, guest speakers and work on case studies on business plans and how to develop ideas and strategies. After spring break, students will no longer sit in on an official lecture, but will meet with their teams weekly to work on their projects.
Each team is working on developing a commercialization plan for some idea, invention or patented technology.
Students will also meet weekly with mentors like Bob Morrison, a longtime local businessman and investor and a former mentor-in-residence at Eller’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, via Skype or teleconference. Then, the students will turn in drafts of the reports they will present at the end of the semester.
Padilla explained the students are working as consultants, not working toward taking over the research. Since the inventors own their inventions, students had to sign a nondisclosure agreement saying they would not reveal nor share the research.
“It’s like you hire a landscaper to come to your yard and say ‘hey put this plant here, put this plant there,’ but they don’t own the house, they don’t own the yard,” Padilla said.
Students also get to listen to guest speakers who visit the class, offering their expert business advice: Entrepreneurs such as, Fletcher McCusker, the CEO of Sinfonía, a home health-care company; Jim Haleem, a former corporate vice president of Motorola, and Ken Dorushka of Bell Labs, a research organization.
“They (guest speakers) just bring such expertise to this classroom, it’s amazing,” Padilla said. “The students just sit there with their mouths open.”
The class is collaboration among students, scientists and community members.
“She (Ann Weaver Hart, president of the UA) talks a great deal about collaborations and partnerships and this course is probably the prime example of what she’s talking about,” Padilla said.
For students, the class also serves as a complement to previous work within their own departments.
Yahya Yuksel, a second year law student at the UA, said he learned about the legal aspects to patents, but this class is the other half to his interest in understanding how to commercialize patents.
“It’s the ying and the yang and I’m really happy I did it,” Yuksel said.