Duke Spotlight: Office for Translation & Commercialization Turns Smart Ideas into Reality
NOTE: This article first appeared on the Working@Duke / Duke Today website.
Unit: Office for Translation & Commercialization
Years at Duke: 37
Number of employees: 42
What they are known for: When a Duke employee sprouts a good idea, one with the potential to have value beyond the institution, they often need a small push and healthy dose of guidance to help the innovation reach its full potential.
Whether that idea is an innovative tool, a life-changing drug or a helpful piece of software, Duke’s Office for Translation & Commercialization’s team helps it – and the inventor – thrive.
The office can claim roots back to the formation of the Office of Licensing and Ventures, which began in 1986. But in 2021, after Duke’s Board of Trustees spearheaded a comprehensive update of Duke’s research, translation of commercialization infrastructure, the Office for Translation & Commercialization (OTC) was created, combining the Office of Licensing and Ventures with other operations – such as Duke Capital Partners and the Gilhuly Accelerator Fund – into one unit.
“Our job is to identify and pull the innovations from our faculty, graduate students and employees and determine the best ways to protect and commercialize them,” said University Associate Vice President for Translation and Commercialization Robin Rasor. “That can mean a licensed to an existing company or through creation of a new company.”
How they make a difference: With many innovative people at Duke pursuing a myriad of research projects, worthy ideas and inventions pop up often. A key part of the OTC’s mission is to make sure the ideas are appropriately protected.
A long-standing component of the OTC’s work has been helping Duke innovators navigate the process of patenting or copyrighting their ideas and marketing them to potential partners. The office also helps negotiate deals with existing companies to license new inventions. And if existing companies want to fund further research into an idea or invention, the office’s team of contract specialists work closely with Duke’s Office of Research Contracts and Office of Research Support to make sure any intellectual property issues are handled.
For innovators with an entrepreneurial mindset, the OTC’s New Ventures group provides a variety of services from mentoring to financial and business planning to introductions to potential investors. Each year, Duke spins out 10-15 new companies, many of which stay in the region and employ our graduates.
What they can do for you: For anyone employed at Duke – faculty, staff or graduate student – who thinks they may have an invention in the works, Rasor said it’s never too early to contact the OTC, which has plenty of resources help sharpen worthwhile ideas.
Rasor said her team – which features experts on different kinds of science, as well as different industries – can do research on potential markets for an idea, search for similar patents and see if there are already similar technologies which could serve as competition. The Office for Translation & Commercialization can also harness the resources of the Gilhuly Accelerator Fund which exists to fund late-stage experiments on Duke-owned innovations designed to reduce risk so that potential commercialization partners or investors can be identified.
“Sometimes the technology is so early, we can’t find an investor or a company partner because the technology needs a ‘killer experiment’ to obtain additional confirming data, a prototype, or better intellectual property protection,” Rasor said.
Significant achievement: In the 2021-22 fiscal year, the Office for Translation & Commercialization helped launch 14 start-up companies based around Duke inventions. The office helped connect inventors with potential investors, industry mentors and business experts.
Duke Capital Partners – formerly the Duke Angel Network – has played a key role in bringing some of these start-ups forward. Made up of Duke alumni in a range of fields, Duke Capital Partners offer guidance and venture capital funding to new start-ups which come from Duke inventions or Duke community members.
“This team is at the end of our innovation pipeline,” said Fedor Kossakovski, the Director of Marketing & Communications for the Office for Translation & Commercialization. “These are members of the Duke family who can invest – and do invest – in companies founded by Duke alums, sometimes based on intellectual property developed at the university.”
Big goal: At its core, the Office for Translation & Commercialization is designed to help Duke’s creative minds get the most out of their ideas. This spirit is showcased each year in the Invented at Duke event, which features displays devoted to Duke technologies and start-ups, a guest speaker from the innovation community and plenty of opportunity for Duke’s bright minds to network.
“It’s really a party, a celebration of innovation at Duke,” Rasor said.
This year’s event is slated for late November.
Hidden fact: During the 2021-21 fiscal year, the OTC filed 450 U.S. patent applications, helped 116 patents get issued, negotiate 107 agreements and 24 exclusive licensing deals for Duke inventions. This work resulted in $95.7 million in total revenue for Duke.
“That’s a testament to our faculty who perform the research and create the innovations and to our office, which protects and licenses them to our partners,” Rasor said. “The marketplace is saying ‘Yes, these inventions have value.’”