Idaho seminar pushes technology transfer-Universities, labs work to turn ideas into enterprise

Idaho could be the home of bio-engineered glue or new computer security software or even a cure for cancer.

Or the development of these technologies could stay stuck in a laboratory if not nurtured, financed and marketed properly in what´s known as technology transfer — the process of turning new ideas and processes into private enterprise.

Julie Howard
The Idaho Statesman

Pairing government labs with universities is a powerful way to accomplish this, said representatives from several regional universities and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory at a seminar this week.

The seminar was part of the three-day Subsurface Science Symposium in Boise that ended Wednesday.

“Inventors need to see that we´re all in this together,” said Norris Krueger, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Boise State University. “At the same time, we can empower our students with a real-life experience that can´t be matched.”

Krueger joined professors from Idaho State University and Montana State University to promote their own technology transfer programs, which team students with emerging technologies.

Krueger said a partnership with INEEL gives students access to lab discoveries — ranging from bio-engineered glue to a cancer treatment — that have potential marketability. Students then take on a specific technology as a semester-long project, either seeking applicability in other markets or researching competing technologies to determine market viability.

“I´d like to turn these projects into business plans,” said Krueger, adding that BSU´s program, called TRAILS, is brand new but has high aspirations. “It´s a great time for entrepreneurship.”

Other universities have achieved success with technology transfer programs.

Montana State University has established a TechLink center, an incubator that matches research labs in government or private business with university programs that can provide assistance. The center has students currently helping a software company license artificial intelligence technology from the U.S. Navy and was an intermediary for a Bozeman, Mont., company licensing NASA laser technology.

“Our goal is to create 12 new companies over the next three years,” said Will Swearingen of MSU´s TechLink center.

Idaho State University partners with INEEL for a technology transfer program, having students analyze new technologies for broader applications.

“We have the students answer the question whether the technology can be used for a new start-up company or as part of an existing company´s portfolio of products,” said Ronald LeBlanc, professor of marketing at ISU.

LeBlanc said one student team is likely to produce a business plan that will be presented at BSU´s annual business plan competition next spring. If that plan generates enough interest to result in a new company, students would gain partial ownership of that new company.

Officials at INEEL, which is in the Idaho Falls area, also see the benefit of technology transfer programs. Technology developed on site can be licensed to private companies for a fee, providing additional income to the government facility and ongoing research.

Lyman Frost, INEEL´s director of technology transfer and commercialization program, said the facility has gone from no licensing fee revenues three years ago to a projected $540,000 this year.

“We think we´ll double that next year,” said Frost, adding that the lab had 137 visits by private companies in 2001 for confidential discussions about licensing technologies.

In 2001, three new companies were formed in Idaho utilizing INEEL-licensed technology, and two more were formed this year, said Frost.

“This program generates jobs and a broader tax base and it demonstrates the lab´s value to the public,” he said.

To offer story ideas or comments, contact Julie Howard
[email protected] or 373-6618

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