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November 7, 1996

Marketing of Pitt technologies, inventions expected to generate 1,000 jobs in local start-up firms

Over the next five years, Pitt intends to create 1,000 jobs locally through start-up companies and joint ventures that will market technologies and inventions developed at the University.

That goal would expand to creating 10,000 jobs during the next 10 years as those companies mature, said Arthur Boni, director of Pitt's Office of Technology Management.

Pitt hired Boni in March to aggressively pursue commercial outlets for technology developed here. At the Oct. 24 Pitt Board of Trustees meeting, he updated trustees on his office's plans and activities.

Besides outlining employment goals, Boni told trustees that:

* Starting this year, the University will aim to facilitate creation of more than five start-up businesses annually. Boni said his office currently is working with 15 prospective companies, helping to form partnerships involving Pitt researchers, entrepreneurs, and funding sources ranging from foreign-owned businesses to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center System, Inc.

"Five [of those start-up business] are in active financing discussions," he said, "six are approaching the point of obtaining financing, and four are in the formative stages." Boni said the first of the 15 companies should be up and running by the end of 1996: Genetic Foundries, Inc., led by researchers from Pitt's pathology department.

* In recent years, the University has acquired an average of 10-15 licenses from 20-25 patents annually on Pitt-developed technologies. Boni said his goal is to triple the numbers of licenses and patents within three years.

* During the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1996, the University earned $1.2 million from licenses and from stock held in businesses marketing Pitt-developed technologies and inventions. The University hopes to triple that income within three years, Boni said.

Pitt's $1.2 million in licensing revenue represented about 0.5 percent of the University's funded research last year. Boni said his office will aim to increase that share to 2 or 3 percent over the next five years.

A steady, predictable stream of licensing revenue would help guard against unexpected drop-offs in other University funding sources, Boni pointed out.

By creating jobs and otherwise contributing to Pennsyl-vania's economy "in a measurable way," the University's technology transfer activities should help Pitt in appealing for state funding and private contributions, said Board of Trustees Chairperson J. Wray Connolly.

Compared with other research universities, Pitt ranks "low-to-middle of the pack" currently in terms of joint ventures with the private sector, Boni acknowledged. Last year, only two start-up companies were created to market Pitt-developed technology, "and those came about largely in spite of the [University-administered] system," he said.

Pitt-related business ventures produced a "negligible" number of jobs last year, according to Boni. "I guess the good news is that we have nowhere to go but up," he said.

Nonetheless, Boni said: "Our goal is to achieve top rank performance nationally within five years." He called his office's goals "very aggressive" but achievable. Boni cited three Pitt research areas as being most promising for technology transfer in the next 5-10 years: biomedicine (including human tissue engineering, cancer research and discovery of new drugs), materials science and information technology.

Boni has 25 years of experience as a manager with a variety of R&D and technology companies in Massachusetts and California.

Before coming to Pitt, he was responsible for creating and managing new business ventures for Pharm-Eco Laboratories, Inc., a Lexington, Mass.-based drug synthesis and chemical services company.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 6

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