Supplement: Ramping Up Tech transfer

1 The report, conceived by the venture capital working group of the region's CEO Council for Growth, compares the Greater Philadelphia area to peer regions with strong life science industries and suggests strategies for advancing the region's commercialization potential. With so many excellent universities and research institutes in the area, more innovations should be ending up in the hands of entrepreneurs who can develop them into products, the report finds. In response, business leader

Jan 1, 2008
Susan Brown
1 The report, conceived by the venture capital working group of the region's CEO Council for Growth, compares the Greater Philadelphia area to peer regions with strong life science industries and suggests strategies for advancing the region's commercialization potential.

With so many excellent universities and research institutes in the area, more innovations should be ending up in the hands of entrepreneurs who can develop them into products, the report finds. In response, business leaders are beginning to make plans to attract more venture capital and more entrepreneurs to the region. Many of the area's research institutions are finding more effective ways to connect inventors with biotech and pharmaceutical businesses.

Creating a Clubhouse

Interest in promoting life sciences in the region came into focus when the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) held its international meeting in Philadelphia in 2005, according to Russel Kauffman, president and CEO of the Wistar Institute and a member of the CEO Council for Growth. At that time the Milken Institute, an economic think tank, released a report that was commissioned in 2003 by several area organizations to assess Greater Philadelphia's position relative to other life science hotspots such as Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, and North Carolina's Research Triangle.2

The potential for making money from the invention must be made clear to investors, as no one will pay the cost of developing a technology unless they can be confident of a profitable market for it.

The Greater Philadelphia region ranks at or near the top on many measures, including jobs, federal funding for research, and sheer brainpower. On a few of the measures, such as new startup companies, the region lags behind. Although venture capital investments amounted to approximately $500 million in 2003, they paled when compared to the San Francisco Bay Area's $7 billion. This would indicate that the region's academic power hasn't yet been put to optimal economic use.

"There appears to be a real shortage of entrepreneurs who can take the initiative in starting up new companies," Kauffman says. That may be why venture capital, which should be abundant along the wealthy eastern seaboard, hasn't flowed toward Greater Philadelphia in larger amounts. The report recommended fostering "a culture of entrepreneurship."

To do that the business leaders have decided they need a "clubhouse," a single place for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to meet. "In areas that have been successful, there's always been at least one place you can go to get this done, if not a physical place, then a virtual entity," Kauffman says. The CEO Council is currently deciding what sort of clubhouse it should create. (See "3

The university's expertise and experience have been tapped to help other institutions develop programs. In June 2007 it received a Keystone Innovation Zone grant for $100,000 to help smaller regional universities - including University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and Widener University in Wilmington, Del. - establish technology transfer offices, Chou says. She also sends researchers seeking seed money to Ben Franklin Technology Partners and BioAdvance, both in Philadelphia and funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. "We leverage the economic development resources of the region," adds Chou. (See "References

1. "Accelerating technology transfer in Greater Philadelphia: identifying opportunities to connect universities with industry for regional economic development," CEO Council for Growth, October 2007.
2. "The Greater Philadelphia life sciences cluster: an economic and comparative assessment," Milken Institute, June 2005.
3. R. DeVol, A. Bedroussian, "Mind to market: a global analsysis of university biotechnology commercialization," Ross DeVol and Armen Bedroussian, Milken Institute, September 2007.