In early spring 2011, The Ohio State University announced that Brian Cummings had been named its vice president for technology commercialization.
In that role, he leads OSU’s new Office of Technology Commercialization, which coordinates all aspects of knowledge transfer and technology development. He is charged with heading the university’s strategy to advance the economic and global impact of its most promising technologies.
To put it simply, Cummings and his team serve faculty, researchers, clinicians, and students by attempting to turn their inventions, technologies, ideas, and research into business opportunities and products.
“We do this by first assessing an innovation, developing an intellectual property strategy, determining a business strategy, creating a development plan, finding and connecting to the proper resources and partners, structuring the deal, and then monitoring its success,” says Cummings.
Learn about their progress thus far, why Cummings isn’t reusing the technology commercialization strategy he developed at the University of Utah, and what he considers a challenge at OSU −as well as a great opportunity− in the following interview.
The Metropreneur: Why is technology commercialization at our nation’s universities important?
Brian Cummings: The U.S. spends over $60 billion at its research universities and labs, and more and more it is looking for ways to use this as a platform for innovation and economic development to keep America thriving. We believe great economies are built around our great research universities and Ohio State can play a major role in economic development.
One of our amazing medical researchers said it best when he realized one day that the only way he was ever going to truly make a global impact in patient care was to get involved in the commercialization and business development of his invention. He is now one of most creative and inventive clinicians we have at Ohio State.
[M]: How do Ohio State’s technology commercialization efforts match up with efforts at comparable universities?
BC: We have some catching up to do to, but I think it illustrates what makes Ohio State such an exceptional place. When the university realized they were falling behind in commercialization, President Gee made it a top priority, and committed an exceptional leadership team and resources to ensure we could contribute to the university’s key mission of research and education.
[M]: You led a team that brought the University of Utah from the bottom of national rankings to the top, making it the No. 1 university in the country for creating new startups from its research. During your tenure there, which began in 2005, more than 110 tech companies were established and you helped attract more than $300 million in funding. That’s quite a feat. Are you looking to do something similar at OSU?
BC: We’d like nothing more than to recreate the success at Utah, but we realized early on that what works in one place usually doesn’t work in another. Commercialization, like most innovation initiatives, need to be customized to the region and stakeholders you are serving. What we are creating at Ohio State will be unique to Ohio and the country. It is a brand new model that engages students, companies, researchers, and capital partners in distinct ways with distinct programs that meet the needs of our research colleges.
[M]: You’ve been on the job since June 1, so you’re more than halfway through your first year. Are you making progress on the goals you set for those first 12 months? Assuming you had specific goals…
BC: We’ve had a tremendous start since we’ve begun our transformation and we are most proud of the level of engagement we have seen from our researchers and community partners. Commercialization doesn’t work unless we get the key players −students, entrepreneurs, companies, angels, venture capital funds, researchers, and alumni− involved in the process, and everyone throughout the region and at Ohio State has jumped on to assist us with the change.
Since starting, we have reorganized the office, seen a sizable increase in inventions from our faculty, increased our outreach and education forums, started a student advisory board, developed an open community pitch event called WakeupStartup, begun structuring several unique public-private partnerships, and created many other new student and faculty opportunities.
[M]: Have you faced any unexpected challenges since coming on board?
BC: The sheer size of Ohio State makes for an interesting challenge, but it also represents the greatest opportunity. Ohio State has resources and departments that few other campuses in the country can boast. The research facilities and educational curriculum should allow us to tap into expertise and assets to develop new treatments, drugs and other breakthrough technologies faster than other universities, and in association with large and small corporate partners.
[M]: What do you like most about working at OSU?
BC: The energy. You feel it from the minute you walk around campus. People are welcoming, helpful, and truly want to create something amazing here. The leadership is also unparalleled and some of the most creative people I have ever worked with. President [Gordon] Gee, Geoff Chatas, Dr. Steve Gabbe, Dr. Mike Caligiuri, Provost Joe Alutto, Dr. Caroline Whitacre, and Christine Poon and so many others; it’s like an Olympic dream team for commercialization. I’ve also never experience the level of passion that exists in the Buckeye community. That is a passion that we can’t wait to tap into to help us in so many entrepreneurial areas.