A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Office of Business Development Building Partnerships

March 24, 2015

Vice Chancellor of Research and Economic Development Sam TrainaIn 2014, the Office of Research and Economic Development began a comprehensive review of the campus’s approach to addressing the commercialization of concepts produced by the research of our faculty members and students.

This review has resulted in a new organization at UC Merced that is dedicated to building partnerships across functional units within the university as well as with external partners. The goals of this organization are to:

  • lead to enhanced commercialization of university research products through entrepreneurship;
  • increase research opportunities with the private sector;
  • expand the employment opportunities for UC Merced students through partnerships with Student Affairs; and
  • build lasting relationships with the private sector by working jointly with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

Tech Transfer – What Have We Learned?

Since 1980, universities across the country have engaged in technology transfer, a patenting-and-licensing-focused approach to working with industry and to develop small businesses. This approach has received widespread criticism from industry, the venture-investment sector, entrepreneurs and university faculty members. Essentially, that focus creates a buyer-seller relationship at an early stage of technology development, when what is most crucially needed is a partnership.

At UC Merced, we’ve looked at the results of this decades-long social experiment, and we believe the results are in.

Patents are important, but starting with patents and working toward relationships is not efficient. Relationships, not patents, are the initial drivers of creativity and innovation, because no one person can bring an innovation to market.

The Role of Partnerships

Because innovation is a driver of economic growth, to succeed in our mission we must foster partnerships and understand that they are relationships in which people commit themselves to creating mutual benefits.

Accordingly, UC Merced has closed its Office of Technology Transfer — the office that asked the question “Have you invented something that we can patent?” and replaced it with the Office of Business Development (OBD), which asks the questions, “What are you trying to achieve?" and "How can we help?” OBD's partnership is reflected in several ways, from how it works with faculty members and students and how it connects with industry to how it facilitates communication and cooperation both externally with the community and internally among its professional teams.

Partnering With Faculty

The OBD helps researchers determine whether commercialization can be a means to achieving greater impact for their research programs. Faculty members can contact the OBD at any time for consultation to determine what their options are and to get help implementing plans to work with existing companies or even start new ones.

Patent rights and copyrights are created and managed as part of a commercialization strategy that is developed together. OBD assists faculty members in managing intellectual property, but does it in a smarter way.

Partnering With Industry

In many cases, research programs can be enhanced by working with companies. The OBD’s Industry Alliances program helps match needs and interests across the gap between industry and academia. A structured but flexible engagement approach, which was developed in the formation of UC Berkeley’s Industry Alliances Office, has been adopted at UC Merced.

Partnering With Students

In cooperation with the Center for Career & Professional Advancement, a Student Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program launched in January. Part of OBD’s effort to create new companies, this program helps students understand entrepreneurship, provides assistance in developing and evaluating their business concepts, and makes connections with faculty members, the innovators who can benefit from their enthusiasm, focus and complementary skills.

Partnering With the Community

In July, the UC Merced Venture Lab will open its doors downtown at 18th and M streets in the Ralph Shannon Parcade. New companies and business concepts with a UC connection will be able to tap into the local entrepreneurial ecosystem through the Venture Lab, and the space — provided by the city of Merced — will host an office of the UC Merced Small Business Development Center to provide assistance to local small businesses in addition to those with university connections. The program will have a team-building focus to teach clients how to build investible companies.

Partnering Within the Administration

UC Merced is dedicated to being a no-silo zone. A growing team of UC Merced professionals in the schools, the Office of Business Development, Development and Alumni Relations, and Career & Professional Advancement have committed to sharing information about the companies they work with and seeking opportunities to help one another.

Partnering With You

If you are a faculty member, a student or a member of the community and you would like to learn more, contact us at busdev@ucmerced.edu. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sam Traina serves as vice chancellor for research and economic development and is a professor of life and environmental science and environmental engineering.
Peter Schuerman joined UC Merced in 2014 and serves as associate vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development.