Alice Li, PhD
Executive Director, Center for Technology Licensing
Cornell University
Board of Directors
AUTM Member since 2002
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Don’t ruminate about the past, or over-worry about the future—live in the present moment. You only have NOW. For the things you want to do, the people you wish to show love, and the type of person you are inspired to be, it all happens through the magical door of NOW.

How did you get involved in technology transfer? 
Believe it or not, I was a trailing spouse in a dual-career situation, a common phenomenon these days, and I held the “power” to decide whether we were going to make a move or not. At the time I was working at a startup company on product development and was engaged in fundraising activities. During our exploration trip to Cornell, the field of tech transfer jumped in front of me as the bridge between university and industry and the path between research and commercialization. What a perfect fit! I decided to give it a try and never looked back.

What’s something you’re working on right now that really excites you? 
We established a major gap funding program three years ago, and I am currently in the process of setting up a small seed fund for tech startups. Through these and other programs built in the ecosystem in recent years, we are moving the needle for pipeline building and starting to realize some successes.

You are an inventor and a patent holder. How that experience helped you in your tech transfer career?
The first time I was reading the draft claims of my own patent application, I asked the attorney why two of the claims were the same. “There is one word difference,” she said, and explained to me the claim structure. My experience with inventing and patenting not only made the IP aspect of tech transfer easier to learn, but it also helped me connect better with inventors on the path to protection and commercialization.

What do you like most about working with tech transfer professionals, inventors and entrepreneurs?
The inventors and entrepreneurs are among the most creative and passionate people. Tech transfer professionals care deeply about impact on society, which is in the DNA of this trade. It’s a privilege to work in this space as society is at a critical juncture in shaping the future directions of the world.

What something you wish more people knew about living in Ithaca?
Cornell is located in Ithaca, a small and vibrant college town in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. “Ithaca is GORGES!” There are more than 100 waterfalls within 10 miles. During COVID time, we explored many of them beyond the official parks. I realized how important being in nature is to me and developed an even deeper appreciation of the town that I call home. In recent years, we have also seen growth of tech companies in our community.

March is Women’s History Month. Which woman innovator from history has inspired you, and why?
When I was young, a book about Marie Curie opened my eyes. The conditions under which she worked to discover radium are unimaginable by today’s standard. One can only admire such devotion from those early pioneers. Another important figure to me is Barbara McClintock, a Cornellian and the Nobel Prize winner in 1983 for her discovery of mobile genetic elements. She was ahead of her time and persevered when others were skeptical about her groundbreaking discovery.

What’s a favorite memory from an AUTM event or initiative?
My favorite recent memory happened in 2022 on Hill Day, when the AUTM Board visited DC offices to advocate for innovation and tech transfer in the CHIPS and Science ACT.

What does AUTM Membership have to offer that you can’t get from other organizations?
First, members of AUTM are very collaborative in supporting each other for learning and creating connections. Sometimes it’s through sharing established processes to help each other. Other times it’s new initiatives that different groups coordinate to explore new frontiers. Second, AUTM is growing its influence in policies to support a strong innovation ecosystem. This is very important to create the macro environment in which all of us can be successful together. Third, AUTM has an inclusive environment to help people succeed regardless of individual, institutional, industry and regional differences. Of course, AUTM has been my professional home for more than 20 years. I am very proud to be an AUTM Member.