Arizona State University puts muscle behind tech transfer

Since Michael Crow took the reins as president of Arizona State University, he has touted the benefits of university technology transfer. Now he has an organization that can put those benefits into effect.

Adam Kress
The Business Journal of Phoenix

Crow, through the ASU Foundation, has formed Arizona Technology Enterprises LLC, a new entity to serve as the university’s technology-venturing enterprise. Crow also hired Peter Slate, former director of Global Technology Outlicensing with Baxter International Inc., an international biomedical company based in the Chicago area, to lead the group, along with at least four vice presidents.

Both Slate and the program officially will start April 1, and Crow said he hopes to "produce the first version of a new generation" of technology-venturing enterprises.

"Stanford, Columbia, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Wisconsin do the best job with this right now," Crow said. "We’re trying to leap-frog them a little bit.

"I think this will put us in the game on a national level in technology venturing," he said. "We weren’t doing this before and it was clear to me for some time."

As this new group takes shape, House Bill 2403 continues to move through the Legislature with little opposition. The bill, if passed and later approved by voters, would bypass some legal roadblocks for universities and small businesses taking a product to market.

Slate, 36, has been a corporate attorney and business-development professional in the areas of tech transfer, venture capital and emerging company development, business acquisitions and strategic alliances in Chicago over the past decade.

He said he most simply describes the new group as a technology development and commercialization company. Slate said he is putting together a small group that he calls "lean and mean."

Slate will be working with four vice presidents and a handful of assistants in the new leased office, located in the ASU Agriculture Building where the Office of Technology Collaborations and Licensing currently resides. Eventually, the new group is expected to move into the ASU Foundation building, to be built at College and University avenues on campus.

There will be two VPs of portfolio management, one in bioscience/health care and one in physical sciences/engineering. There also will be VPs for new ventures and operations.

Slate, who has not worked for a university before, has had many dealings with them in the past.

"I’ve been on the other side of the table working with universities many times, and I have an appreciation for the complexities of the university setting," he said.

Slate said one of his top priorities will be to get university technologists excited about innovation and market opportunities — but only to an extent.

"We want professors furthering research, but you don’t want them thinking too commercially about technology; we want them thinking practically," he said. "Leave the commercialization up to a group like mine. We just want to be a catalyst to help them focus on what they do best."

Crow said figuring out how to move with speed will be one of the group’s biggest challenges and one of its most critical tasks.

"Urgency is absolutely the criteria that separates those who win and lose," he said.

Slate said his most significant challenge is twofold.

"A big challenge will be to get the technology out of the minds of inventors and into a tangible form that we can develop a commercialization strategy around," he said. "But we also need to educate folks about what we are all about and change some thinking.

"Both challenges can be overcome by education and communication," he said. "And I’m optimistic about ASU being a young university with a lot of momentum."

ASU’s Office of Technology Collaborations and Licensing previously took on many of the responsibilities that now will lie with Arizona Technology Enterprises. Crow said the collaborations and licensing office no longer will exist, and many employees of it will move to the new entity. He said no jobs will be lost.

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