January 2019 issue editorial by Thierry Heles, editor, Global University Venturing
When you break a record, there are usually two questions asked of you by journalists – how did you get here, and do you think you can maintain this performance? The first is an obvious combination of a strong belief in what you are trying to accomplish, hard work and persistence. Mia Hamm, the former football player who won two gold medals for the US at the Olympic games and enjoyed seven years of success with the national team, once showed a poetic approach to her journey, saying: “I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
Sometimes the answer is more complex, and it takes an entire book by Michael Lewis and a film starring Brad Pitt – both titled Moneyball – to explain how one team outsmarted the entire US baseball franchise. But even in that case, the core factors were investing a lot of time, smarts and a strong belief in the goal.
The second is often more complicated to answer, because all winners are eventually toppled. But university venturing is unique in that there is no outside competition to beat – the only records that the sector breaks are its own and while there is a friendly rivalry among universities, tech transfer professionals have always shown a camaraderie and willingness to share best practices that is truly inspiring.
It helps that money is a secondary concern for university venturing. Matt Perkins, chief executive of University of Oxford’s tech transfer office Oxford University Innovation (OUI), said at the GUV Summit in November: “OUI is not there to make money for the university, that is not our remit. It is about creating impact.”
The message is not new but, over the more than six years that Global University Venturing has been reporting on the ecosystem, tech transfer offices have become increasingly confident about shouting it from the rooftops.
Lita Nelsen, then the director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s technology licensing office, noted in her keynote speech at the GUV Fusion conference in 2015 that technology transfer was not a money-maker and that licensing had returned only $2.6bn for a research base of $63.7bn, a rate of 4.1%. The real point of commercialising research was not even the creation of spinouts – which were a by-product of the process – but generating an economic impact.
Of course, the activities of a tech transfer office can make money. As James Wilkie, chief executive of University of Birmingham Enterprise, told GUV for the annual review in this magazine: “Our operations were profitable and we were able to make a substantial charitable donation to our shareholder, the university.”
And so it seems only right that Global University Venturing will be joined by a new sister publication this year – Global Impact Venturing – that will bring the impact investment community into Mawsonia’s growing global network, starting with a track dedicated to impact investments this month at the Global Corporate Venturing & Innovation Summit in Monterey, California.
The same conference will also welcome back Christine Gulbranson, chief innovation officer of University of California (UC) and chairwoman of the GUV Leadership Society, to introduce the second UC Entrepreneur Startup Showcase.
It might be too early to predict whether universities will maintain their performance in 2019, but everyone to whom GUV spoke for its annual review was confident they would – and there is as little doubt in the minds of the editorial team as there is in those of industry leaders.
GUV will continue to help the sector grow in every way it can. To equip the publication with the necessary resources to keep growing, we have reintroduced a full paywall – and we invite any and all thoughts on how we may assist you – email me email@example.com. We are humbled by and keen to live up to comments such as that of Koji Murota, chief executive of university venture fund Kyoto University Innovation Capital, who said: “I believe that GUV and GCV are going to be more important than in 2018.”