Guest Post by Alice Li: Tips for Strengthening Innovation Ecosystems and Technology Transfer

Guest post by Alice Li, Cornell University, Executive Director of the Center for Technology Licensing, AUTM Board Member. This post is part of a series by the Diversity Pilots Initiative, which advances inclusive innovation through rigorous research. The first blog in the series is here and resources from the first conference of the initiative are available here.

Myriad inventions in history have been created based on the foundational research done by universities and academic institutions worldwide. Consider the following examples: Google, the search engine we use every day; COVID vaccines, which saved hundreds of thousands of people amidst the pandemic; and even Honeycrisp Apples, which many enjoy daily, are all widely used inventions with direct links to academic studies. In fact, from 1996 to 2020, nearly 500,000 inventions were created by academic institutions, and more than 17,000 startups were formed based on such inventions.

Given that technology transfer is a bedrock of the innovation ecosystem, it must be an inclusive step that helps ensure equality in the innovation and commercialization process.  For this reason, the Association of University Technology Managers (“AUTM”) has developed an equity, diversity, and inclusion (“EDI”) strategy to encourage the active participation of all demographic groups in technology transfer.  As the leading association of technology transfer professionals, with more than 3,000 members and 800 institutions globally, including universities, research centers, hospitals, businesses, and governmental organizations, AUTM has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the knowledge created by academic institutions is disseminated to a broader audience at many different organizations, improving the world and drives innovation forward.

But EDI should not be considered a separate pillar or task.  Instead, for best results, EDI should be integrated into everything technology transfer managers: educate, promote, and create professional networks and connections.  To achieve these strategic goals, AUTM established an EDI Committee that reports directly to the AUTM Office of the Chair.

The EDI Committee has two prongs to its strategy: first, to promote diversity in AUTM, the network of technology transfer professionals, and second, to promote diversity in the innovation ecosystem itself, which includes all inventors, entrepreneurs, and industry partners in the community. To pursue these goals, the EDI Committee has done Member Surveys to establish EDI objectives, developed Baseline Metrics for EDI in AUTM, and provided toolkits for EDI to technology transfer offices in more than 800 institutions. A few years ago, for instance, the AUTM EDI Committee officially released the Woman Inventor’s Toolkit, followed by the EDI Toolkit released last October. AUTM’s efforts to promote EDI in the profession continue.

Thus, today, I urge all the universities, institutions, technology transfer professionals, and diverse innovators to consider, once again, AUTM’s goals to promote EDI in the innovation ecosystem. First, I ask universities, agencies, and related institutions to incorporate the Innovator EDI Data into their metrics for innovation. AUTM has collected metrics data for the past thirty years. AUTM’s comprehensive dataset will provide organizations with a strategic and holistic guide to promote diversity in their research and operations.

Second, I ask technology transfer professionals to participate in the AUTM Biannual Demographic Survey. Your participation will allow a better understanding of the demographic makeup of the technology transfer and knowledge exchange in the innovation ecosystem. Such understanding will lead to more opportunities, improvements, and advancements in our community.

Third, I ask women and diverse innovators to join mentoring programs as mentors and supporters.  Last year, the AUTM EDI Committee developed a pilot program to support the growth and careers of university professionals who are at Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) and interested in the commercialization of academic research and technology transfer. AUTM provides participants access to the AUTM community, mentorship, and Association benefits through this program. AUTM has approached more than 30 universities since the program’s initiation, and currently, twelve are actively participating in it. Also, AUTM provided up to five individuals with complimentary memberships in each TTO, an eGroup that the EDI committee members facilitate for information sharing and mentoring. Furthermore, AUTM is actively supporting other programs in the community, such as Equalize, the National Pitch Competition, and Mentor Program to empower academic women entrepreneurs. Your participation in such programs as a mentor or a supporter can provide new women and diverse innovators in the field with ample resources and practical guidance.

Fourth, I ask institutions and organizations to assist with reaching out to diverse candidates.  For instance, Cornell has started the Ignite gap funding series. The gap funding program is designed to help entrepreneur scientists and engineers start new companies. In an academic research environment, gap funding provides critical support to promising technologies and innovations with significant commercial potential, but which are still “too early” for licensing or external investment. Applications for gap funding and other programs to accelerate innovation are due in the fall.  At Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing, we look forward to supporting future successful diverse entrepreneurs in their journey in innovation.

Collective action and joint efforts involving all stakeholders are vital to building a robust system for technology transfer and creating a diverse innovation ecosystem. Please join us in our efforts to stimulate technology transfer and promote diversity in invention.

For more information, please feel free to contact us.

  1. To incorporate Innovator EDI Data into metrics for innovation: Lisa Mueller:
  2. To get information of the AUTM Demographic Survey: Colleen Loeffler
  3. To join the Equalize Competition and Mentor Program: Kristen Leute; Nichole Mercier
  4. To assist with reaching out to diverse candidates to apply for the Ignite Gap Funding Fellow Positions: Alice Li

Main takeaways:

  1. Partner with AUTM for Tech Transfer: Many inventions and technologies came from initial studies done by universities and research institutions worldwide. Therefore, technology transfer is vital in the field of innovation. AUTM is a leading association of technology transfer professionals.
  2. Incorporate Innovator Data: To promote diversity in technology transfer, AUTM encourages you to incorporate the Innovator EDI Data into your metrics for innovation, participate in the AUTM Demographic Survey, join mentoring programs as mentors or supporters, and reach out to and educate diverse candidates for gap funding programs for entrepreneur scientists and engineers.

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