November 10, 2010

Finding the Technology Transfer Office

As a professor or student interested in entrepreneurship you might have heard about something called a Technology Transfer Office (TTO). It’s the place that is supposed to help you turn your idea into money. The next few posts will be a quick guide to finding, understanding and leveraging these offices.

From my semi-anecdotal surveys, I estimate that 90% of university students and at least 50% of professors don’t know where their TTO is located or even that it exists. Some universities are better than others, but the TTO is usually just one more supporting department in a veritable ocean of such entities. Especially for students the TTO doesn’t have any immediately necessary function so it gets overlooked quickly (try handing out free past exam samples and you will get instant popularity).

Your search for the TTO is often made more difficult by the wide range of names and organisational location. Try looking for key words such as technology transfer, licensing, commercialisation or industry liaison. You might find an office that is semi-separate from the university structure, one that is within the office of the VP Research or even offices embedded within faculties. On most university websites you can find them under Research somewhere.

For professors the search is often a bit easier. Most TTOs emerged from grant management efforts. All universities have an office that helps professors obtain and administer research funding. Those places often also house the TTO, sometimes even with overlapping people. In the university culture this sort of makes sense since both functions deal with the procurement and administration of money. Of course the rest of the world would cringe at the notion of staffing the departments of Finance and Sales with the same people.

Once you found them, go and visit them! Even if you aren’t actively working on a commercial project, it’s a great idea to get to know the folks at your TTO. They are a great resource for your first entrepreneurial steps as long as you understand their boundaries.

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