There is much about tech transfer that is...well, to be blunt...broken about the process. There are several of us in the Washington DC Region who are banding together to figure out whether the system can be fixed and if so how. Under this TechTransfer/Commercialization Category, we'll be examing the issues, and, dare I say it, occassionally ofter a possible solution.
Last week I was at an event organized by MITRE. Gerard Eldering, head of MITRE's tech transfer office, has been studying how to make his organization more effective in TT. This event brought together some area VCs, TTOs from George Washington, George Mason and Johns Hopkins Universities. The format was not new, but it was a good first meeting under this umbrella of bringing together VCs, Entrepreneurs, and TTOs. And Tom Stroup, the CEO of SquareLoop, a MITRE tech transfer success story, presented about the process he went through.
That's the stage. Now the act.
And that is in fact the word that is needed - "act"ion. One of the VC partners present asked Stroup how more entrepreneurs like him can be found. In the research we at KTG have been conducting, talking to various types of organizations involved in TT, finding the right people is one of the toughest aspects to fill. Everyone wants good managers. But to found what might be a high risk company, you also need that extra little zing of that risk/visionary/don't-tell-me-no-tell-me-how personality. Not an easy combo to come by. Stroup had no answer.
But I do - and it's a challenge to the VCs out there: get involved early and often in entrepreneurship fostering programs. I know VCs claim to be involved with companies, sit on the boards of directors actively, etc. This is a sales point for some of them. But I am calling for something more. If you complain about not finding the right people, then get involved in their discovery and training. Don't just wait passively for someone to come to you. Go to them. Cultivate them. Partner with universities and federal labs. Create your own training programs or partner with those who can. I know this is not part of the VC financial model. But frankly, maybe it's time to take at look at that model and change it. Or add to it. Or reframe it. If VCs think of themselves only as "funds," then they are taking a very dry, onse-sided view of what they could be achieving in the world of new business creation and growth. They demand much of the entrepreneurs they fund; it's in their best interest to develop entrepreneurs they seek.