Entrepreneurial efforts combined into Innovation Institute
The University is aligning the entrepreneurial efforts of the Office of Technology Management (OTM), the Office of Enterprise Development (OED) and the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence (IEE) in a new University-wide Innovation Institute. The institute (www.innovationinstitute.pitt.edu/) will support innovation through education, collaboration, commercialization and communication.
In a Nov. 14 statement announcing the Innovation Institute, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson said: “Innovation is essential for propelling the University to become an even stronger leader in education, research and regional development.
“Forming this comprehensive institute will allow previously separate units to integrate their resources and avoid duplication of services. The Innovation Institute’s establishment is part of a broader effort to cultivate an environment that empowers faculty, students and staff to reach greater heights in their innovative research and entrepreneurial activities.”
Marc S. Malandro, associate vice chancellor for technology management and commercialization and director of OTM and OED, is the institute’s interim director.
“The Office of Technology Management and the Office of Enterprise Development will continue to work with faculty, staff and students to facilitate the commercialization of new technologies and the formation of new companies originating at the University,” Malandro stated in a prepared release. “The Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence will continue to support and educate business leaders in the regional entrepreneurial community. It is clear there are strong synergies between the groups and, working together, we will be able to maximize our impact.”
Malandro told the University Times that he and Ann Dugan, IEE founder and executive director, have discussed closer collaborations over the years — from aligning mentor networks and cross-utilizing students to strengthening support for Pitt innovators. “We really do have a common mission in terms of the regional economic development focus,” he said.
“It’s always been the ad-hoc being in touch,” but the ideas for a more formal structure coalesced over the past 12-18 months, he said.
Dugan’s plan to step down from her post at IEE early next year (see Nov. 7 University Times) was among the catalysts for the institute’s formation. “It was an opportune time to say, ‘Let’s formally put it together,’” Malandro said. “From an administrative standpoint, I know there is synergy to be gained between the groups.”
A short-term goal is to find Dugan’s successor at IEE before searching for a permanent director for the Innovation Institute, he said.
Malandro said the three groups together employ about 40 people. Much of OTM and OED’s work is focused within the University, while IEE’s is external. “There’s not a whole lot of duplication of effort. I don’t necessarily see consolidation from a staff consolidation standpoint. I see consolidation of mission,” he said.
“At this point and for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be three separate groups working together under a common mission. We’re going to spend some time talking to our advisory boards, talking to our internal constituents, external partners, and figure out strategically where we should be three to five years from now,” he said.
The provost’s leadership in the initiative sends a message, Malandro said: “We see University-industry partnership as very important. We see the ability to translate our research results as very important.”
Likewise, “I think she sees the impact it can have on education. She sees the impact in the other places but also understands that innovation and entrepreneurship should pervade all schools on campus, all departments on campus,” he said.
Among the institute’s roles will be to facilitate curriculum development in ways that will eliminate the need to duplicate coursework. “I see much more of us connecting schools together,” Malandro said.
Likewise, “There’s plenty of opportunity to expand experiential learning,” he said, noting that IEE, OED and OTM together utilize more than 40 student interns each term.
As a University-wide entity, the institute could create a repository that would broaden the reach of the many lectures on innovation and entrepreneurship that are presented here. “Once they’re given, they’re done,” Malandro said. “What if you just went around and recorded every one and archived them in such a way that they were accessible on campus and off? It seems to me that’s something very simple, but something very, very powerful. It would take someone in an overarching unit to be able to think about doing that, to be able to host that.”
Malandro also envisions new workshops and courses for innovators, including one that would bring together CEOs and faculty who are first-timers in the startup process to share what it’s like to start a tech-based business.
Conversely, he’d like to host a workshop to educate business people who are interested in partnering with the University on the nuts and bolts of what they might encounter. “For instance, if you want to work with a university, we’re always going to want to publish. These are the things you can expect.”
Fostering interaction among disciplines in existing programs has proven beneficial: As an example, OTM/OED’s “From Benchtop to Bedside” commercialization course for scientists and clinicians has benefited from the inclusion of business and law students. “So now you have the faculty member interacting with a business student and a law student — different vocabularies coming together. Our role is to facilitate that,” Malandro said.
Building the bridges that aid understanding between innovators and businesses is important, Malandro said. “Many of our faculty who are associated with startup companies or working with businesses are doing it for the first time. And so we need to educate them to ensure they understand what business people are thinking. Likewise the business community has to understand what it’s like to work in an academic environment. They have to understand what the faculty are thinking,” Malandro said.
“This is a tough place to navigate for people who live here every day, let alone a small business who’d like to access some expertise on campus — be that expertise in just talking with a faculty member, or partnering in research. Building bridges to them, to teach them how to interact with us, is something that we need to do well,” he said.
University-industry or University-foundation partnerships can ease some of the financial worry amid declining federal dollars and other research support, Malandro said. “It can’t fill the whole gap and won’t on any campus. But, the better we can do here, it is an alternative source of funding,” he said.
Malandro said, “We’re always for facilitating a shift in culture on campus toward more innovative and entrepreneurial thinking – not just entrepreneurial meaning startup companies. If you take a look at any of the faculty members who run independent research laboratories on campus, I can’t think of more entrepreneurial people: They employ people, they make themselves self-funded. … They’re like a small business.
“A university is different from other companies; we have a common mission but each individual lab has its own mission: They need to keep their people funded, their research moving forward, and they need to think about where the university is going. I think our role, as is any administrative unit’s, is to make it as easy as possible for them to do their jobs,” Malandro said.
“If commercialization is their goal, if translating their discovery is their goal, it’s our job to make it as easy as possible and help them do that. If it’s starting a company, it’s our job to make it as easy as possible to help them to do that.”
“I see our role is to knock down barriers, if they are there, greasing the skids and having someone who’s willing to not only listen but to share the path with.”
—Kimberly K. Barlow