Ben Franklin


Innovation Transfer Network: Transferring Technology from University to Marketplace

Smaller colleges often have an abundance of intellectual capital but lack dedicated tech-transfer offices. Projects that are born in these schools vary widely-from the development of a solar collector to writing code for strategic analysis software. What many of them have in common is the Innovation Transfer Network (ITN).

Innovation Transfer Network

The impetus behind the Innovation Transfer Network is to discover the exciting new research and development being done in the classrooms and labs of colleges and universities—and then find ways to introduce it to the market.

ITN is a partnership among 14 institutions of higher education in Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster counties. The program provides training, business assistance, technology assessment, intellectual property consultation and seed funding for faculty and student research and technology-transfer activities.

“The impetus behind the Innovation Transfer Network is to discover the exciting new research and development being done in the classrooms and labs of colleges and universities and find ways to introduce it to the business world,” says Jill Edwards, executive director of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners’ Venture Investment Forum, which provided funding for the program.

Support When and Where It’s Needed

“Ben Franklin’s involvement has been critical,” says Judith Sen, director of ITN. “They played a major role in the success we had in our first year. Jill Edwards helped to start the organization and now manages our training programs and assists our members with locating information on intellectual property issues.”

The Stanford and Wharton-educated Sen brings more than 20 years of business development and marketing experience in health care and manufacturing to her new position as director of the network. ITN is adapting tech-transfer strategies for small schools by providing a centralized resource and fostering cross-institutional collaboration. It is also helping to identify promising technologies and provide the earliest of early-stage assistance, with the intention that new companies will form and develop far enough to warrant traditional Ben Franklin Technology Partners (BFTP) funding.

Founded in 2006, the Harrisburg-based ITN is a regional initiative of the Harrisburg and Lancaster Keystone Innovation Zones and is administered through Penn State Harrisburg. The network is supported by BFTP through resources, office space, project management assistance and other in-kind contributions.

A Results-Oriented Program

ITN administered 13 seed grants to support research at several higher-education institutions during its debut year. The institutions receiving funding included Dickinson College, Elizabethtown College, Franklin & Marshall College, Millersville University, Penn State Harrisburg, Shippensburg University and Lancaster General College of Nursing. Each received roughly $10,000, for a total of $130,000.

Of those 13 projects, two patent applications were filed, four products were ready for market and several feasibility studies were completed. For the next phase of applications, Sen anticipates an even greater number of participants and a higher level of competition.

“The success of our first year has led to greater interest from the faculty at our member schools,” says Sen. “Based on inquiries we have received, we expect to see twice as many applications this year.”

A Gateway for Business Involvement

By design, ITN provides companies with a gateway to discover how they can partner with colleges to address their innovation needs. In addition, by working with 14 partnering institutions in South Central Pennsylvania, ITN can support technology-focused economic development that can, in turn, lead to the creation of high-tech jobs.

Such efforts have led to a range of activities that include assisting several faculty-owned companies with business development, providing networking opportunities for faculty at different schools, helping start a center of excellence in a technology of local economic importance and locating funding sources for research projects.

Those projects, Sen says, represent merely half of what ITN does. “The other half involves big-picture issues,” says Sen. “The schools in the network all have valuable intellectual capital that can contribute to the economic health of our region, and they are eager to do so, but many of them have limited experience and resources to apply to technology-transfer activities.”

Edwards agrees. “With the formation of ITN, there’s somebody leading the charge to discover what our smaller colleges and universities are doing in this hugely robust tech-transfer climate,” she says. “The bottom line is that if you don’t get those great ideas out there into the business world, nothing much is going to happen with them.”

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This article was featured in
Keynotes April, 2007
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