A new program at the University of Louisville aims to give researchers a little guidance when trying to commercialize innovations developed here.
The Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Business, has launched ShareIt, a speaker series that encourages researchers to learn from UofL peers who have successfully done this sort of thing before.
“I’ve worked with a lot of researchers who are commercializing innovations developed at the University of Louisville,” said Dr. Mary Tapolsky, the center’s assistant director for external programs. “And it seems like there are a lot of unknowns when navigating this process.”
ShareIt aims to give new researcher-entrepreneurs a map. The program launched with a pilot event in late May, but will resume in fall with a full lineup of speakers talking all things entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Sometimes, it can be overwhelming and scary,” Tapolsky said. “This is a forum for them to hear first-hand about the experiences of their colleagues and learn from them.”
The pilot event featured Drs. Mahendra Sunkara, of Advanced Energy Materials LLC, and Thad Druffel, of Bert Thin Films. Both are with the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research at the UofL J.B. Speed School of Engineering.
They talked about effectively transferring product development from academic labs to companies, and the various issues that need to be considered. For example, how to navigate university policies and build a good team.
“The success will depend up on the way you structure the company in the early stages,” said Dr. Sunkara, also a professor of chemical engineering. “It is also important to understand COI-related issues specifically for those based in the university.”
The goal of the ShareIt program is to give new researcher-entrepreneurs a primer on things like that straight from their colleagues who have done it before – for example, Drs. Druffel and Sunkara.
Druffel’s Bert Thin Films won funding through a phase I STTR award through the National Science Foundation in 2015, and a phase II SBIR award in 2017. And Sunkara’s Advanced Energy Materials recently opened a large, roughly 20,000 square-foot production facility on the north side of UofL’s Belknap campus.
Dr. Druffel said there were plenty of commercialization role models at the Conn Center.
“The culture at the Conn Center is highly translational and entrepreneurial,” Dr. Druffel said. “Several colleagues have launched new ventures, including our director, Mahendra Sunkara. Center benefactor Hank Conn has ensured this spirit and guidance is built in the center.”
Future topics for ShareIt include the importance of team chemistry, finding a business partner and structuring this deal, exploring different applications through customer discovery, value of going through LaunchIt, and the value of participating in the national NSF I-Corps program.
Those interested in learning more about ShareIt, or being notified of upcoming speakers, can email Tapolsky.