November 13, 2013

HAMED: Thoughts on CCTEC

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By ALI HAMED

I appreciate that Dr. Alan Paau, the executive director of CCTEC, has taken the time to address the issue of CCTEC’s role in the entrepreneurial community, and would love to respond with some thoughts.

I agree, “commercializing technology” and fostering “entrepreneurship” are two different things. But by isolating those two, rather than figuring out ways to marry them, we realize the rub.

First off: comparing ourselves to other schools is not the answer.

There is a systemic problem across universities in general. In 2012, universities generated $2.5 billion in licensing fees. That number sounds big, but only if you don’t consider the fact that the government has spent $90 billion to fund higher-education research projects that have yielded those results (Not that all those research projects should be driven by economic gain, but really? $2.5B billion on $90 billion?).

Even if we were to compare ourselves to other universities, we’re behind.

Dr. Paau brought up a few statistics. Namely, that our university has executed more licenses on a lower budget than Stanford or MIT. Right on! But that doesn’t mean our return on investment has been higher. In fact, it points to the fact that we are yielding less per license than institutions noted for utilizing their intellectual property in spinning off new ventures.

Just ask MIT professor Robert Langer ’70, who has helped change the world by spinning off companies derived by his patents developed during his academic tenure.

So here are some numbers that measure their commercial impact:

**Data on number of patents provided by Dr. Paau | Data on revenue pulled from the Brookings Institution

Why is the data so bad?

It’s because we are focused on the wrong performance metrics. It’s not how many patents we execute, but rather what we do with those patents, and how well they are supported once lifted into the commercial world. It’s easier to license our technology to big companies like Google and Intel, so that’s what we do. Taking a chance by giving an entrepreneur support and first dibs at using a cutting edge piece of research takes time and effort, and is risky. But it also works — and with the right support Cornell could become an even greater player within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

According to the Brookings Institution, the problem with technology transfer offices in general “is that the focus on patents, licenses and startups places too much emphasis on outputs as opposed to outcomes. Those indicators represent proxy measures of getting material to the market as opposed to whether particular research ideas actually are having an impact and being successful in the marketplace.”

So what should Cornell do?

I’m not an expert on this, but here are some guesses:

Maybe we could brainstorm more ideas together?

I’m psyched about how much tech we have and the opportunities we can reach together.

Dr. Paau, let’s talk. My email is ali@coventure.us. My cell is (818) 307-7964. I’d love to work together.

Best,

Ali