AUTM 2020 Chair Speech - Marc Sedam
This is the first time in a lifetime of regular public speaking that I’ve ever written out what I planned on saying. Good thing, so you can read it here today.
Let’s briefly look at what the future holds for three important topics—AUTM’s work with the FLC, its focused efforts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the relevance of technology transfer beyond the traditional patent license.
As Rich mentioned in his speech, for the first time in its history AUTM applied for a federal grant—in this case, a five-year cooperative partnership to operate the FLC on behalf of NIST. The question you might be asking yourself is “Why?” Why would AUTM extend its efforts beyond its traditional focus on universities and other public sector research organizations?
Simply stated—the benefits to the US economy and our national defense were too great to ignore. AUTM and the FLC are like twins separated at birth. Both organizations were jump-started by legislation, and while AUTM focused on improving the commercialization of science from predominantly educational institutions the FLC was launched to commercialize ideas from the federal labs.
We believe we can help FLC member institutions directly through enhanced educational offerings, convening events like this one, engaging industry, and collecting and reporting out data that shows the great work already being done in our federal labs. But we know we’ll also learn a lot more about how federal labs work and how to create bridges and natural paths of collaboration between universities and research organizations, the federal labs, and our industry members, as well. I’m personally very excited to learn about our country’s federal labs and how to bring more of their exciting technology to market.
For example, did you know that one of the most common commercial paths from research in space science is through medical devices? That infrared thermometer you’ve used to check your child’s temperature had its origins in a satellite looking towards faint IR signals in deep space from celestial events light years away. There have to be more remarkable opportunities like this possible from industry-university-government research partnerships and we hope to pave the way to make those easier to identify and bring to market for both FLC and AUTM members.
Next, let’s talk a little about equity, diversity and inclusion.
The first thing to know about EDI is that once you start examining issues facing underrepresented populations, you can never look away. My first deep dive on the topic was volunteering with an NSF I-Corps program on diversity proposed right here in San Diego by San Diego State University, led by Susan Baxter with help from AUTM’s own Tommy Martindale, whose goal was to train under-represented populations on the commercialization of life science-related inventions.
This program, now in its fourth year, brings 40-50 early career scientists from under-represented groups to the BIO International meeting and does intensive customer discovery on the BIO trade show floor. The results have been remarkable, with “graduates” pursuing positions in business development, venture capital, and even technology transfer, as well as changing the prism of how they view their research to include commercialization. Last year AUTM joined this program, offering all participants memberships and access to AUTM’s educational offerings for a year. Registration is still open
But our recent inspiration came from last year’s keynote. In the open forum the CEO of Task Rabbit, Leah Busque, was asked how she achieved gender balance in the workforce of a high-tech company. She said the answer was simple—if the finalists for a position lacked diversity and the hiring team had identified their targeted hire, that team had to bring in two other candidates from under-represented populations and re-interview before hiring. 60% of the time, she said, they hired a candidate from the diverse pool. Our final speaker today will touch on some of these same, important themes.
AUTM has always had a robust volunteer community focused on gender issues and more recently a Diversity Special Interest Group was developed. But AUTM wanted to create a formal committee, reporting directly to the Board, to educate us on how AUTM can focus its attention on EDI issues in both its own programming and actions. For example, how do we ensure diversity on every committee, panel, and especially the Board itself—as well as what guidance, support, information and education we can provide Members who want to help their own employers do better?
Rich Chylla touched on some of the simple things we planned to include in Annual Meetings. Others included AUTM’s first-ever live transcription service to help those with hearing challenges, translations of our plenary speeches into several languages to help Members for whom English isn’t their primary language, and a lactation room, but in the coming year we’re going to ask you more questions and bringing more resources forward to improve inclusion and representation in all that we do. What I ask of you is to engage thoughtfully and deeply with us to help make the TT profession the best it can be.
So, let’s talk about the future. The future of tech transfer itself.
Back in the day, the objectives of technology transfer were straightforward: fix the perception (or the reality) that life-saving drugs were sitting on the shelves of universities and get them in the hands of industry. As a profession, we’ve done an excellent job of that with many therapies having their origin in academic labs. But the job is very, very different today.
The technology transfer of today doesn’t only identify, evaluate, protect, and license valuable patent rights. It also proactively examines industry trends and tries to match our researchers with emerging industry needs. It now goes beyond patentable subject matter or even software, into the realm of creative and digital works where we’re engaging beyond the STEM disciplines into the research and scholarship of our institutions to commercialize images, curricula, evaluation tools, and the like. It is AUTM members from both industry and the non-profit research community creating partnerships that go beyond research and IP and include the myriad ways non-profit research organizations can benefit industry. Members now focus on local and regional economic development and how we build and strengthen our innovation ecosystems through entrepreneur-in-residence programs, communities of innovation, incubators and accelerators, I-Corps, undergraduate entrepreneurship, and dozens if not hundreds of disparate programs all focused towards a single goal – to get ideas out into society and make the world a better place.
It is all technology transfer. And it is all part of AUTM.
In closing, I want to return to where I started for one final thought.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve never written out a speech before. 100% true and up until about a month ago I had planned to create a detailed outline to keep focus on the important issues yet leave room for some extemporaneous thoughts. Yet my thoughts went quickly to EDI as a topic. Then it hit me.
Writing out the full speech and having copy in advance helps with planning and timing and reduces the likelihood jargon seeps in. Nailing down timing ensures issues are covered succinctly. We can’t address every issue at once. But we can start to try.
These changes might create big benefits in how meaningful this session is received from Members around the world. And if I’ve done my job well, those of you in the audience who, like me a few short years ago, never gave much thought to how issues relating to equity, diversity, and inclusion are pervasive in our daily lives, are now thinking about it. And hopefully you’re willing to act and help make sure tech transfer has an even larger impact on society by ensuring we’re focused on all players in the innovation ecosystem and that everyone has an equal chance of creating or helping the next big thing. Once we start, we can’t and won’t stop.
I’m excited about addressing these challenges in the coming year. There is, as always, a lot to do.
Thank you. Now more than ever, I hope to see you all in Seattle in 2021.