OSU creates spot to spawn startup ideas
A pingpong table is intended to encourage relaxation and foster creativity at the new headquarters of Ohio State University’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Knowledge Transfer. Fiscal officer Jeff Anderson has played contracts officer Elizabeth M. Lucas daily since January.
Ohio State University is opening a $2 million center on High Street where researchers and students can meet with entrepreneurs to come up with ways to turn their research into moneymaking products and jobs.
Like the campuses of Apple, Google and Microsoft, the new headquarters of OSU’s Office of Technology Commercialization and Knowledge Transfer, set to open Thursday, is designed to foster a culture of people working hard — and having fun — together.
Visitors to the storefront office at South Campus Gateway will be greeted by video kiosks featuring breakthrough discoveries in agriculture, bioengineering, medicine and other areas. Lime-green decor and funky, retro furniture brighten the renovated former grocery store. Light bulbs hang from the ceiling to symbolize “bright ideas.”
Students, professors, business leaders and others can gather in the kitchen, the laptop bar (no drinks, just a long bar and stools for computers) or conference rooms to get their creative juices flowing. If that doesn’t work, they can play a quick game of pingpong on a table in the center of the action.
“The old office on Kinnear Road was dark, depressing and completely inaccessible to students and faculty,” said Geoff Chatas, OSU’s chief financial officer. “Very few people even knew it existed."
For years, Ohio State has languished at the bottom of U.S. colleges and universities for licensing revenue.
The university ranks in the top 10 nationally in research spending — $756 million in 2010 — and is second in industry-sponsored research. But it reaped only $1.4 million in licensing revenue in 2010, a 26 percent decline from the previous year.
“OSU is a leader in research, but it has not converted that research into commercially viable businesses that generate jobs, tax revenues and a higher standard of living for Ohio’s citizens,” said Brian Cummings, who was hired in June to jump-start the university’s commercialization efforts.
Cummings led a team at the University of Utah that raised the school from the bottom of the national rankings to No. 1 in creating startup companies from its research. Utah established more than 110 technology companies and attracted more than $300 million in funding during his tenure from 2005 to 2011.
Cummings and Tim Wright, a former executive of several pharmaceutical companies who was hired to help launch a drug-development institute at the school, are working with the 270-some scientists at OSU’s Comprehensive Cancer Center to get them to think about the commercial value of their work, said Dr. Michael Caligiuri, director of the center.
The future looks bright, Caligiuri said. “Brian and Tim wouldn’t be here if there weren’t big things coming.”
On Friday, campus officials are to ask OSU trustees to approve creating an innovation foundation that is expected to generate revenue through technology royalties and fees. The foundation would help the school get around current restrictions on working with and investing in private companies.
The effort would require a $2 million startup loan from the university that is to be repaid, with interest, over five years. The foundation eventually is to generate tens of millions of dollars, Chatas said.