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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Tech Venture declares 24 companies were created thanks to U

By David Servatius

Further legitimizing claims that the U has become a powerful economic engine for the entire state, the Technology Venture Development Office announced this month that 24 local companies were created from technology developed at the U during the 2008 fiscal year-an increase of 41 percent from the 17 new companies launched in 2007.

Under the leadership of Vice President for Technology Venture Development and Dean of the David Eccles School of Business Jack Brittain, the Technology Venture Development Office was established as part of the Business School in January 2005 to bridge what many saw as a troubling gap between university research and industry.

“President (Michael) Young joined the university in August 2004 and was hearing from the larger community that working with the university to commercialize technologies and start companies was too difficult,” Brittain said. “A decision was made to create a new administrative appointment focused on commercialization and commercial-sponsored research.”

Since the office’s inception, 61 new companies have been created. In February, a survey done by the Association of University Technology Managers ranked the U second in the nation at starting technology companies based on its own research, behind only the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The U has an incredibly entrepreneurial faculty,” Brittain said. “They have to be entrepreneurs to put together research funding, and they are interested in seeing their research make a difference in the world. In our society, ‘make a difference in the world’ happens through the commercialization process.”

According to spokeswoman Catherine Garff, the technology venture office serves as an umbrella organization for a handful of specialized offices that had been operating independently within the Business School.

These include the Technology Commercialization Office, which has managed the university’s intellectual property since 1967, and the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, which provides real-world experience and practical support for each stage of the business development process.

The office also oversees the Faculty Outreach Center, the Bureau of Economic and Business Research and the Utah Engineering Experiment Station.

“Tech Ventures is the glue that holds them all together,” Garff said.

The various programs within this network of organizations help university researchers with grant applications, business plan development, market research, fundraising, website development, graphic design and participation in new business competitions. They also provide access to a large network of business, scientific and engineering experts.

“Teams of MBA and Ph.D. business students are paired with technology researchers in different departments,” Garff said. “The researcher teaches the business team about the scientific part and the business students teach the researcher about that part of it. It’s just this great mix of science and business knowledge.”

Brittain said the office brought in more than $26 million in licensing and royalty revenues during the 2008 fiscal year. Legal expenses for the year were around $3 million and the rest of the budget, which includes operational costs and a staff of 38 people, was close to $2 million.

After expenses are subtracted from revenues, the net return is split three ways, Garff said. Thirty percent goes to the researcher, 25 percent to the department he or she was working in and 45 percent to the University Research Foundation.

One of this year’s 24 startup companies, Akadi Technologies, specializes in user-friendly, web-based digital signage that is already being used in several campus locations, including the University Campus Store, the Union, the Outdoor Recreation Center and S.J. Quinney College of Law.

The technology behind Akadi’s core product, the Display and Alert Network, was invented by two IT employees in the law school and developed into a company with the help of the office. A team of business students from the Lassonde Center helped the two put together a business plan and enter the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, where they finished in the top ten.

“If we were just two guys in a garage, no way, we would have been like vacuum salesmen going door to door,” said Co-Founder Aaron Dewald. “With Lassonde, the people we’ve been exposed to, the advice we’ve gotten and the connections we’ve been able to make have made all the difference.”

Dewald said they take pride that the project is a collaborate student effort.

“Law school students have worked on it, business school students have worked on it, marketing students have worked on it,” he said. “It is truly a product of the university. When you have something like this, you can put a lot of programming time into it, but when you surround yourself with the all the supportive people that have been involved, that’s the other half.”

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