The University of British Columbia is already well known for the way its faculty translate research into profitable companies.
Now, one organization on campus, entrepreneurship@UBC, shortened frequently to e@UBC, is researching a new initiative for entrepreneurial faculty members that encourages even more of that.
“There’s already some really good support for faculty entrepreneurial people here at e@UBC yet there’s so many of them that actually don’t know about it or don’t understand what it is. And that’s an opportunity for us,” said Blair Simonite, program director at e@UBC.
Andrea Lloyd, programs manager at e@UBC, said that members from different faculties often don’t have opportunities to meet or connect with each other to exchange ideas about innovation.
“There’re a number of innovators who have done really interesting things over a period of time that have knowledge to share and sort of suggestions, ideas to impart but they don’t know one another, they don’t necessarily know who each other are,” Lloyd said.
In terms of existing entrepreneurial support on campus, e@UBC and the University-Industry Liaison Office are the two well-known organizations that provide this. e@UBC provides things like start-up space, workshops, and industry mentors to students, faculty, staff and recent alumni. UILO offers services such as filing patent for a technology and assists new UBC spin-off companies by providing things like resources and mentorship.
UBC spin-off companies from 2005 to 2016 have raised more than $540 million and have employed more than 400 people, according to UILO’s website.
“[e@UBC] really put in some very good programs to accelerate and support faculty members,” said Brett Sharp, associate director for technology transfer at UILO. He added, however, that more could be done with regards to providing entrepreneurial support for faculty members. “We can always do more.”
Faculty members share their experiences
Two UBC faculty members have found the support offered by e@UBC and UILO helpful but suggested that there is also room for improvement in helping faculty interested in entrepreneurship.
Fred Cutler co-founded a company called ISIT Technology with two UBC staff members. ISIT Technology makes video-platform software for education called WeVu.
They participated in the Lean Launch Pad program offered by e@UBC.
“We benefitted from it so I thought it was a good way to get people like us who really didn’t have much experience in starting up even in business at all,” said Cutler, a political-science professor.
The launch pad program offered by e@UBC runs for five weeks and teaches participants about various topics such as customer and market research and understanding a market’s needs.
“The support we’ve had at UBC in general has, it certainly hasn’t held us back at all and it’s probably pushed us along at the right pace which is good,” Cutler said. Still, he doesn’t think that e@UBC is known well enough on campus.
“Word has to spread even more,” he said.
Meanwhile, chemical and biological engineering professor Fariborz Taghipour said that e@UBC ran a good campaign to spread awareness about its programs. He also participated in the Lean Launch Pad program offered by e@UBC.
Taghipour invented the UV-LED reactor technology of the water-purification systems that are being sold by a company called Acuva, which was created in 2014. Taghipour remains on the board of directors.
He said that he was satisfied with the entrepreneurial support he received on campus, and particularly the role that UILO plays in connecting researchers with industry. But he said not all of his colleagues are satisfied with UILO.
He suggested that UILO can improve on its current response time to inventors.
He says some colleagues are “not quite satisfied with UILO because they feel that they take a long time for them to make a decision on invention disclosures.” For an invention to get patented at UBC, it goes through UILO. Ordinarily, a technology must have a complete assessment done before UILO will begin the patent-filing process.
He said that he understands that UILO cannot “expedite everything or file a patent for every invention disclosure they receive, because the process could be very expensive” but said a faster response time would help inventors.
e@UBC researching a new initiative for faculty members
Simonite said e@UBC and its many partners on campus have looked at other practices at other universities that would help to expand on existing entrepreneurship support on campus.
“We’ve seen universities such as U of Utah have created programs like their Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars program,” he said.
The University of Utah’s program “serves both as matchmaker for cross-disciplinary collaborations and as a network for those seeking to translate academic discoveries and creations into the world,” states the program’s website. Simonite and Lloyd have also looked at the Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassador program at Washington State University.
Simonite said discussions have begun with some UBC faculties around the idea of creating a program at UBC that’s similar to the one in Utah.
“It would be important to consult with interested faculty across all faculties to see how this might work at UBC,” he said.
He said they plan to start a consultation process that’s expected to start in the new year.
Simonite emphasized the value of partnerships e@UBC has on campus, like the UBC faculties.
“Every faculty that we’ve talked to on campus is really interested in innovation and impact or interested in entrepreneurship in some way so we consider all of them to be partners in this.”