Kalpa Vithalani is the executive director of technology transfer at Marquette University and she joins us on Talking Tech Transfer to discuss what it means to help build a tech transfer office at a Catholic Jesuit institution and why it is not so much about standing out from other universities nearby as it is about collaborating with them.
She tells us about Marquette’s externship programme for faculty, how the university entices corporates for sponsored research and licensing and why serial entrepreneurs are still mostly missing from the ecosystem.
She also discusses the need for diversity and inclusion both in the student and faculty population, and on patent filings, and talks us through the President’s Challenge at Marquette University.
Please note, the intro and outro have been omitted.
Kalpa, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you so much, Thierry.
To start with an easy one, hopefully. Can you give me an overview of Marquette University’s tech transfer operation with some headline figures?
Absolutely. So, Marquette’s technology transfer operations were only first consolidated across from different university offices in 2019. I joined here in late 2019 just before the pandemic. These operations were consolidated into what is now the Office of Economic Engagement. The OEE, as we call it, sits now within our newly formed Office of University Relations. Within University Relations, we have our office, government affairs, marketing and communications, as well as the general council’s office, which sits off to the side.
Within our office, we have corporate engagement as well as technology transfer, working hand in hand. Until recently community engagement was part of that too. There has been a little bit of restructuring on that. So, for now, within OEE, it is the corporate engagement functions, as well as my role. In terms of headline figures and so forth.
First of all, we like to keep in mind that we are really doing this to bring together the best of what Marquette has to offer, whether that is technologies, talent, people, skills. We want to foster mutually beneficial and comprehensive relationships with our partners that need to align of course with our university values and mission.
That being said, my personal vision for tech transfer here is to transform Marquette University discoveries and technologies into products and services for public benefit. I know we are all in this for public benefit, and we are looking to connect our inventors with industry and community partners. We want to drive investment in our research and discovery machine, if you will. We want to facilitate development of these early-stage discoveries and inventions, and we want to help transform these.
Certainly, we want to enable widespread dissemination of our technologies and services, and we want to be a part of the growing and very robust local innovation ecosystem. Marquette’s annual total R&D expenditures are just shy, at least for the last couple of fiscal years, of about $40 million, just under $40m.
So, in keeping with the AUTM benchmarks of tracking number of invention disclosures per $10m, we are consistently above the 3.3 or 3 invention disclosures per $10m. Marquette’s average has been 4.2 disclosures per $10 million of R&D expenditure. We are therefore also consistently above the benchmark that AUTM uses for disclosures per full-time equivalent. Currently the only dedicated tech transfer FTE, if you will, at Marquette. In terms of our licensing, prior to one of our recent spinouts, we used to do a lot of direct licensing with public utility companies, but we are doing a handful of licenses per year. This year, we are on track for a record of seven I am hoping before the end of our fiscal year. I am very excited about five that I just completed.
I can talk about those in the context of how they arose and the centre out of which they arose. In terms of our portfolio, we have a portfolio of about 150 total issued or pending patent applications.
Wow. Still pretty impressive for a fairly small place. Marquette is a Jesuit institution for those people who are listening and might not know this. Does that guide the work you do or impact the types of disclosures that come across your desk?
Interesting question. We definitely pride ourselves on being a Catholic Jesuit university in the heart of Milwaukee. We, across the university, are 11 colleges with 83 majors, 68 doctoral programmes and master’s programmes. We have about 8,500 undergrads, 3,300 graduate students in law, dental and graduate school, and about 1200 faculty members.
In terms of disclosure, while the majority of our disclosures come from engineering, our college of arts and sciences that also hosts departments like computer science and so forth and the dental school and the health sciences, we do see, and I would like to see more, copyrightable materials, more disclosures from our social sciences and humanities.
But for example, we have a Center for Peacemaking here at Marquette and it houses the university Peace Works, which is an education and violence prevention programme. It is designed to increase young people’s ability and capacity to identify and resolve conflicts nonviolently. This has become such an important thing. So, for example, through that centre, they have developed a curriculum, a social and emotional learning curriculum, and a teacher toolkit to help teachers and students navigate these issues. This is certainly copyrightable material. They reached out to us to help guide the copywriting process and being able to share those things with other teachers
That is amazing. I do not think I have ever come across a university with a peacekeeping centre, so that is really cool.
That is totally in line with Marquette’s Catholic Jesuit mission and our values of excellence. You know, faith, leadership and service, and service is a big one, particularly creating men and women in service of others, so, servant leadership. This plays very well into that.
How do you tell the story of Marquette’s innovations? Maybe it is all the quote unquote noise from bigger institutions that are pretty close by, you mention Madison, UChicago further south, Michigan State, obviously the other side of the lake. How do you stand out?
That is an interesting question. So, in my mind, I do not think of it as the noise, nor do I think of those other institutions as competitors, as much as we have our own unique strengths, we have our own unique offerings. Whether again, it is through our students, through our faculty members, through the various centres and colleges across campus, also, of course, our technologies. One of the things I think that is very important to convey, particularly in Southeast Wisconsin, which is where we are located, is we are very collaborative.
I work very closely with my counterparts, for example, at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, or the Medical College of Wisconsin, or the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Concordia University, and Versiti, actually the outgoing chair of AUTM is tech transfer officer at Versiti, which is the blood centre of Wisconsin. So, we all, as a group, meet monthly to share best practices, whether it is in evaluating technologies, any of the tech transfer processes, how to stand out, how to best market these technologies.
I do not think of it as competition again, it is just about putting our best foot forward. The other thing that I have learned particularly after having been at this particular institution is a sense that you are driven by these guiding values, and there is a sense of purpose and a sense of gratitude and hope and possibility, and that is just beautiful.
Yes, that makes sense. That is very much in line with what other people in the tech transfer ecosystem keep saying. It is very collaborative. It is not trying to fight against each other.
Exactly. As long as I think we keep the eye on the ball in terms of creating value, creating impact, and explaining and being able to tell the story of how it is we are creating value and impact with our technologies. Not often as easy as it might appear. I think that you can get that communication ball rolling to tell a story about your technologies.
You mentioned I think dental, engineering as some of the strengths of Marquette. Are those strengths reflected in the local ecosystem or are you trying to build up any specific sectors?
I think we are unique in that we have the research enterprise here at Marquette that supports these different disciplines. Within engineering even, we have strengths in water technologies, sensors, energy, manufacturing, and so forth. Certainly, within our dental schools, we are very strong in biomaterials. Marquette is very well known for its expertise in leadership and supply chain. We have a very strong data science programme, the way of the world going forward, AI and machine learning and so forth. A couple of different examples for grants that Marquette has recently received in the water space. Last year, we received a $3.8m grant from the US Department of Defense for an interdisciplinary programme, essentially to mitigate water contamination and generate a more resilient infrastructure. So, this multi college, multi faculty interdisciplinary grant will address the water needs. We are also a water capital here. We are sitting on Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. So, it just reflects the great strength that Marquette has in this area. We partner also with UW Milwaukee on a lot of our water research through a centre called the WEP – IUCRC, and that stands for the Water Equipment Policy Industry University Research Collaboration Center. It was originally funded 10 years ago by the NSF, and last year we received word that we were approved for phase three funding, but most of the financial support at this phase three level at least comes from our industry and utility members. So, a lot of the faculty who are participating in this $3.8m grant, for example, also have projects and are participating in projects that are funded by this WEP – IUCRC.
What is really, really cool about that centre is you are generating, again I talked about value and impact, you are creating value for industry and industry members. They have access to talent. They have access to results and IP. They are leveraging a lower overhead. So, in the US it is not uncommon to have a 50-plus percent overhead, 52%, 53% overhead. That industry has to pay for research that is sponsored at universities. They pay 10%. There is certainly value to universities in terms of the funding and in terms of the industry insight and the student placement. Often students will get jobs at some of these industry member sites, and there is value to government because we are leveraging their dollars to generate pre-competitive research in an environment where there is close and sustained engagement between government, the university, so Marquette and UWM, and then all of our industry members. So, that was a little bit about our strengths in water to illustrate our strength in energy. We received a $5 million grant recently from the Department of Energy to support a project to develop the next generation of electric drive trains. This is going to be the new thing. Every manufacturer, auto or otherwise, even in the aeronautical space, is looking to electrify vehicles, whether it is small, medium, large vehicles or trucks, and now even planes and drones, for example. That is another example of where it is a multi-party grant, if you will.
Marquette is the lead, but we will work with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, General Motors, Niron Magnetics, as well as the National Renewable Energy Lab.
Outside of that ground system maybe, how do you generally entice corporates to come to Marquette either through sponsored research or licensing deal?
So, as I mentioned, corporate engagement is a function that is housed within the Office of Economic Engagement. My colleague, Dr Carmel Ruffolo, heads up the charge on corporate relations, but certainly as tech transfer, I work hand in hand with her and we have a very robust programme to engage with industry. Certainly, you can think of the conventional ways in which universities do engage with industry. So, universities are resource intensive and heavy, and we have equipment and service centres. We have a clean room and a MARVL lab. We have facilities for materials and structural testing. We have a water quality centre. An athletic performance assessment core, for example. So, we do offer for industries to come in and use those facilities for agreed-upon charges for example.
Certainly, our HR department and our student engagement departments are incredibly active in organizing co-ops and internships for our students. More and more when we are engaging in conversations with potential or current partners of Marquette, talent is at the top of their list, needing to groom talent before they show up at their door or finding the right talent with the right skills, finding the right talent that is coachable that can immediately make a difference at their companies.
So, a third way, of course, and faculty members have leverage to do that is consult for companies. But in terms of our office, most importantly, we certainly want to engage companies in sponsored research and one of the things that I know that creates friction in terms of doing master research agreements and so forth is uncertainty, and corporations, as you imagine, would like to reduce that. So, we like to structure our agreements and deals such that they reduce uncertainty.
Corporations get improved access to our students, our faculty, our staff. We convey from the very beginning that this is not about the university, this is about us. We want to build this relationship. We want to make it broader. We want to grow it deeper, and it has to be mutually beneficial. Again, we want to be able to create value and impact.
So, by offering all these different programmes, and also a very unique programme to Marquette is the faculty externship programme… This was something that we started a couple of years ago. Again, this was a point on the faculty externship programme or my colleagues, Dr Dan Bergen and Dr Carmel Ruffolo for community and corporate engagement, but essentially think of it like a mini sabbatical, because sabbaticals are like six months, a year or longer, whereas these are two to four weeks, an immersive engagement at the company where there is the possibility to generate innovative ideas for the company to build relationships with the faculty that go and their counterparts within the industrial organization.
Companies get to hear and see from thought leaders at Marquette, and similarly, the professors get to learn about the real inner workings of the company. What are their needs? What is their pipeline like? How could we fit in? How could we even train our students that are, for example, from an education perspective, but then of course, from a technology perspective and research perspective, how can we make that happen?
So, the hope of course is, it has only been two years, but hopefully this will play out as these little engagements will lead to larger contracts, if you will, or research engagements. They span again across the humanities and the sciences, which is also really great. So, we have had faculty externships at one of the tertiary care hospitals here in town, Fair Health, both on the supply chain front as well as for nursing education.
We have partnered with Lutheran Social Services, for example, for organizational development. We have had programmes with Manpower on diversity and inclusion, with GE Healthcare on imaging and product development, with Kohler on supply chain and operations as well. So, it just gives you a little bit of a flavour of how we are trying to do corporate engagement within our office.
That is amazing. Certainly, the faculty externship is something that immediately caught my eye when you sent me the slides over about what you are doing, and it just sounds fascinating. I like thinking of them as mini sabbaticals. That is quite a nice way of putting it. What are the challenges of commercialisation in Wisconsin? What is missing from the ecosystem?
I think that the way you had initially worded the question is what are the challenges and what are the advantages, right?
Yes. Give me some advantages as well.
I always like to start with a positive, that is why I ask. Let me talk about what is absolutely going right in Wisconsin. First of all, we are in the Midwest. All of us Midwestern states get the bad rap of being in the rust belt, being flyover country. Let me tell you that it is definitely not the case. I firmly believe we have proven that we are not that. We are squarely a part of today’s knowledge-based economy. We are innovative, we are creative and important. We are collaborative, but collaborative as a state, even. I feel like we have some of the best universities. We boast a world class university system. In 2020, Wisconsin higher ed R&D expenditure totalled $1.75bn. We have talented people. We have endless opportunities.
With respect to innovation, tech transfer, small businesses and so forth, many of our young companies are very successfully dipping into America’s largest seed fund. So, this is the SBIR and STTR award system. Since 2015, we have attracted 256 SBIR grants and 26 STTR awards totalling over $178m. It is really great because we are having a lot of success thanks to organizations, for example, like the Center for Technology Commercialization, which is paid for through our Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, where they have various programmes that coach faculty members and others, postdocs and others, who want to apply for these grants.
They have a pre-grant review programme. They have matching grant programmes should you get funded. Most of our awards tend to come from the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation. I get very excited about SBIRs and STTRs because I think that we really need to take advantage of those. I had the privilege even to write a bid to host HHS’s national conference here in Milwaukee and I chaired that in 2017.
It was great to see 500-plus people descend on Milwaukee from 35 different states. You see the light bulbs going off as they meet with the different programme officers. It is really great. The other thing I guess I should mention in terms of angel and venture funds, they are tracked currently by our Wisconsin Technology Council. I have the privilege to be on the board there, and we just recently had a session last week where it was heartening to see that in 2021 Wisconsin companies raised over $852m, which is the most risk investment recorded since the last recession, 2008. 119 companies, 126 different investment groups, 90 out-of-state investors, which is great because, as you know, we have a problem of a lot of money on the coasts. 51% of those companies raise more than $1 million. It is just very heartening.
I think what we do not do enough of in Wisconsin, and in the Midwest in general, because I have spent a lot of time here, is we do not brag enough about our successes. We need to tell our stories a little bit louder and I thank you for the opportunity Thierry to be able to tell these stories. One of the other things that is helping our companies as well is a bipartisan act that is actually nationally emulated now.
It is called Act 255, which is a mechanism where qualified investors can receive 25% state tax credit for investments in what are called qualified new business ventures. So, there is criteria for how you can get qualified through our economic development corporation. In 2020, for example, these tax credits were used more than at any time in previous years. So, that is really, again, very exciting to see, particularly given the fact that we were squarely in the pandemic, but people are seeing possibility. People are seeing hope. People are investing. People are moving companies forward. So, now I will get to the challenges because yes, we have all of this great stuff going on. One of the things that I know, even as a group of tech transfer officers around here that we often talk about, is we have a lack of access to experienced management. So, the C suite, CEOs, serial entrepreneurs, people who have done this before who could easily join a venture, fail fast and move on or succeed fast and move on.
That is definitely a concern here. While I just said we did great with fundraising, $852m last year, and I am hoping we will cross the billion mark very soon, maybe even next year, we do have trouble attracting capital and accessing capital. So, the coasts certainly do not have either of these issues, but here it is difficult to simply just bump into a potential CEO or an advisor or a scientific advisor or someone for your board. Similarly, while we do have a robust investment network within Wisconsin who are in turn connected with their networks around the country and on the coasts, we still tend to be a little more conservative and a little more risk averse.
So, that becomes certainly an issue through all stages, whether it is for seed and certainly all the way through series A, B and beyond. What I am hoping is, and I think the pandemic has shown this, particularly with people more routinely accepting meetings like we are virtually, it will help this funding world shrink. For example, I have myself been able to speak with investors in Boston, which otherwise might have not been entirely possible because this is just maybe becoming the new way of business.
They would not have got on a plane to Wisconsin before and now it is just logging into a Zoom or Teams call. The lack of serial entrepreneurs, is that because the ecosystem is still quite nascent or do they tend to go elsewhere once they have had their exit and made their money?
I think it is both. The thing is I can probably count them on my fingers, those highly successful serial entrepreneurs who have stayed in the Wisconsin system and are giving back, which is just phenomenal. They are giving back either through volunteering their time at the universities, they are volunteering their time by becoming board members and so forth. In terms of being able to attract CEO material to Wisconsin, because it is, I do not like to say completely nascent, but certainly more risky perhaps as seen from the perspective of folks on the coast, it becomes difficult to attract that talent here.
But again, I think technology will help with this because more and more you are seeing companies are virtual, particularly in the starting stages and, as you know, the journey is very long and arduous from taking an idea from an invention disclosure to when it becomes an actual product or service. So, I think we are making great progress.
Something else that is at the top of everyone’s mind at the moment for obvious and good reasons is diversity and inclusion. How does Marquette fare when it comes to that?
I am actually very proud to say the university has made this a high priority. At the end of the day, we are an urban school in Southeast Wisconsin, smack dab in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. We have made a commitment to increase the numbers of diverse students, faculty and staff.
I actually looked up some of our numbers and in terms of people from diverse backgrounds, 29% of our undergraduate population are in that population, 22% of our graduate and professional students. Also, 20% of our full-time faculty, 12% of our part-time faculty. Then 22% of our staff are considered to be from diverse groups of people, which is really great. I am really, really proud of this. I know that it is only going to get better with all the different initiatives being put in place. As it relates to technology transfer, I think we, like other universities, still would like to see more women inventors, more diverse inventors, disclosing inventions to us, but I am really proud to say, for example, in our new patent applications that we are naming at least one woman inventor.
This is a data point that AUTM is now collecting. 69% of our new patent applications for fiscal year 2020 named at least one woman inventor, up from 40%. So, we are very proud of that, which was the previous fiscal year in terms of invention disclosures that are naming at least one woman inventor. We have some work to do. We have fluctuated from year to year from say 15% to 40%, but I would like to be consistently up in the higher percentages. In terms of the other huge effort that is present on campus is our newly formed Institute of Women’s Leadership.
That was formed in 2019, a generous donation from a foundation. The effort is led by our Office of Research and Innovation. So, a $5m endowment to create this Institute for Women’s Leadership, recognizing that we need more women involved in all aspects of our campus life, whether it is as faculty or as staff or as leaders, as inventors and so forth.
One of my goals is going to be to deepen my relationship with that centre to get the message out more.
Amazing. You have already mentioned you joined Marquette in 2019, pre-pandemic years of 50 years ago. You spent 11 years with the Medical College of Wisconsin before that. What prompted you to pursue a career in tech transfer and what attracted you to Marquette in particular?
I guess it is in some ways a traditional story and in some ways not. If you had asked me when I was growing up in Tanzania many, many years ago, would I be doing tech transfer? I would have said, What is that? But fast forward many years and I certainly valued my time as a graduate student when I was at Duke University and then as a postdoc at the Cleveland Clinic.
But during those graduate school years, it became very increasingly clear to me that I was missing something in attacking problems that you do in a very concentrated and focused way during your PhD research or your postdoctoral research. I wanted to be able to see how the work that I was doing was going to make a more near-term impact. So, it was at that time at the Cleveland Clinic where even the massive tech transfer operations there, Cleveland Clinic Innovations, was getting going. I left there in 2001. I had met with the director, then Chris Coburn, to learn more about the field. It is at that time that I was wrapping up my postdoc and had an opportunity to spend about a year in Stockholm, where I basically knocked my way into Karolinska Innovations to learn more about, what is the field? This seems really exciting and it offers me a way to use my skills and education in a way that is different than I do now.
So, I cut my tech transfer teeth there. I still do consider myself to be a part of the MCW family, where I spent so much time. It is Wisconsin’s second largest research institution behind the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I had grown there, I really enjoyed working there, but I learned about what was happening here at Marquette under the guidance of president Lovell, a very, very innovative leader.
So, under his purview, there was a task force that was formed here at Marquette to address whether the university will build and invest in an office of corporate engagement or economic engagement, that would also house tech transfer. As this was happening, folks had reached out to me from Marquette to let me know that eventually when the vice president for this office was recruited, we had a stellar leadership from Maura Donovan for a while. There has been some restructuring. We have another phenomenal leader here in Paul Jones. I saw an opportunity to grow and to build something, that has always appealed to me, to build something from scratch, whether it was a business that I had before I started in the tech transfer field in the women’s wellness space or whether it was a real estate business where it was building homes.
This was a way to bring my skills and my knowledge to a field that I care deeply about and an opportunity to grow professionally. Believe me, I am being stretched at the end of the day. I am a cell biologist. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of our disclosures are from engineering and other disciplines where I have to essentially be the dummy in the room and ask a lot of questions, though it is truly is helping me grow.
I think you are in good company there because when you said dummy, it reminded me when I had Orin Herskowitz from Columbia on, he was talking about how when he took over, his entire bookshelf was just books for dummies because he did not understand most of the science that people were throwing at him and eventually he just realised that his job was leading the office and not understanding the minutiae of everything.
He is great. Orin is great. And I love that coming from an English major.
Yes. There is hope for us humanities people yet. One of the things you also do is you are a reviewer for the president’s challenge. Can you tell me a little bit about this?
So, this is another great example of how you can engage corporations differently because more and more corporations are really taking their social obligations and corporate engagement work with the community very seriously. This is actually a grant programme developed in partnership with two companies, Johnson Controls and American Family Insurance, two large companies in the Milwaukee area, where essentially we are looking to fund innovative, interdisciplinary, collaborative work that addresses challenges here in Milwaukee and in our community.
We have had two rounds. In 2020, it was more of a lightning round where we asked for proposals that would address COVID 19 and the many issues that were affecting our communities. In 2021, the theme was racial justice and equity, and how we might help address that. So, just to give you an idea then in 2020 the projects that were awarded. So, a lot of people had to shelter in place, stay at home, but what about those people who cannot be safe at home because there are partner violence issues. So, there was a grant that supported a study on this issue.
There was an online local toolkit resource for teachers to assist students who are disproportionately affected by COVID 19. One of my favourite projects too was, how do we work with Feeding America, which is a local food bank, to optimize public distribution of food to meet growing needs and demands at the right time to the right places? So, it is a phenomenal programme. Certainly, there are criteria that are used to pick the projects that are funded. They have to have very well described intended outcomes and methods to evaluate the impact of their project, including, what are the metrics? How are we going to sustain this? Certainly, you have to engage with a community organization.
You have to complete some meaningful work within the grant time period. So, for the covid project, it was a one-year time period, typically it is two years. Then we certainly look at the experience and composition of the team and also the level of student involvement because Marquette prides itself on having over 80% of our students participate in community service of some kind.
Amazing. What is your vision for the future of tech transfer at Marquette? What does this look like in 10 years?
My focus since arriving has been on consolidating all of our operations, our assets, and so forth to streamline our processes, get a robust evaluation process in place through our patent review committee, populating our database so, that I am not searching for all of our data and so forth. Going forward, looking to bigger things, particularly in organizations where tech transfer is not sort of at the tip of your tongue for the average faculty member or staff member or student, I would like to be more integrated across our 11 colleges and schools, with the intent that more of our students, faculty and staff will be thinking, hey, how will my research or my work make a difference, make an impact, can turn into a product? How will it be a service? How can it benefit the public?
Understandably of course, faculty members are focused on research and teaching and publishing, but if they can take that extra leap and if we can help inculcate that cultural change, if you will, that would be a really great thing in my mind. I definitely want to see, as I mentioned earlier, more disclosures from across the different colleges, even our social sciences and humanities, because we have a lot to offer. There is, for example, an undergraduate who is writing a book that will help children understand that things happen, it is not their fault.
If this, for example, could become a series and if we could copyright that. So, I would like to see more disclosures from all of our disciplines and certainly more disclosures from diverse inventors. The other huge goal that I would have and vision is to streamline entrepreneurship resources across campus and within our regional ecosystem. So, it is a bustling ecosystem and that is really exciting, but oftentimes there is duplication going on in this corner of the city or with this accelerator or with this incubator or this programme.
If you have a faculty member, who is even just beginning to think about, Hey, I think this could form the basis of a company, and that is already a huge leap for so many faculty members, where do they even start? So, if we can design a roadmap of the resources and help that are available, not just on campus, but even in our ecosystem, I would like to do that. If there is any way that we can play a role in increasing access to capital, both state and private, that would be great. And increasing access to the CEOs that are needed to lead these companies eventually, if the faculty member traditionally wants to take more of a CSO role, for example.
Is there anything you would say to someone starting out in tech transfer today?
It is a unique profession. I think what is so cool about tech transfer is it sits smack dab in the middle of three different disciplines. So, you have the technical side and the scientific side, you have the law with respect to patent law, as well as contract law. Then you have the industry connection, whether it is the startup world or established businesses.
I would say if you are the curious type, if you love to learn, you want to stay at the cutting edge of knowledge and technology, you want to be a problem solver, like a connector, if you will, tech transfer is definitely the right profession for you. I feel like we can use talented people and I think there is data showing that people are intentionally entering this profession now, and it has a more elevated profile.
Yes. I think I saw an article in Technology Transfer Tactics where they were talking about the great resignation even affecting TTOs. So, having more people come join the profession is going to be a good thing for everyone.
Absolutely. And you do not have to have a particular background. You can be an English major. You can be an attorney. You can be a scientist. You can have a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, a PhD. All are welcome.
Are there any examples of technologies or even spinouts that come out of Marquette that you would like to highlight?
Yes. All of our spinouts I am very proud of, but if I was going to highlight a couple, I would pick Marquette Energy Analytics. This began within Marquette University as the GasDay laboratories, when one of the local utilities reached out to our professors to ask whether there was any reliable way to predict natural gas demand. Again, is this not great because there was a need, there was a problem to be solved and our engineers and our software people, our computer science people, they solved this problem.
This operation ran within the university since the mid-nineties, and eventually we spun it out in 2019. Today through that centre, which still exists within Marquette University, we have trained over 200 students. There has been pre-2019 revenues of over $5m. The company has a little bit of a royalty break as they have just recently spun out. Certainly, we are able to continue working through ongoing sponsored research. But here is a fact that just blew my mind when I found out about this. Today Marquette Energy Analytics forecasts over 20% of the nation’s daily, natural gas demand. Right here in Milwaukee. Is that not amazing?
Wow. That is amazing.
So, that would be in the energy space. If we are talking strengths, a couple of others in the water and the healthcare space. We have a brilliant new company called Rapid Radicals Technology that was born out of this WEP-IUCRC that I discussed earlier, this collaborative research centre, and this company is revolutionizing high-rate wastewater treatment. Essentially it is to address combined sewer overflow and to achieve rapid storm water management for municipal and sewerage districts. Basically. their technology reduces wastewater treatment time from eight hours to 30 minutes. This company was formed in 2016.
They have taken every advantage of America’s largest seed fund. They have raised close to $1.4m in non-dilutive funding through both STTR and SBIR mechanisms. They also got those matching grants that I mentioned earlier that are offered through our state, and they have a working pilot within a shipping container at one of our local utilities, metropolitan Milwaukee storage districts.
Right now, as you can imagine through the pandemic shipping containers are in high demand, so, they are actually delayed a little bit in implementing their second pilot and version two of their treatment system, but we have very high hopes for Rapid Radicals Technology. Then in the health space, for example, we have a company that is already generating revenue called TicHelper. It is an online self-guided therapy programme for families and children who have chronic tic disorders like Tourettes, for example.
Along those same lines, we also have a company called Promentis Pharmaceuticals that has raised over $31m in capital and they are developing treatment for trichotillomania, which is a disorder where folks pull out their hair. They are the first company that has done multi-site trials for this indication and relevant perhaps to my health right now, estrogen therapeutics. They are using estrogen biology to help women live healthier lives. Initially, they are going to look for ways to reduce hot flashes, improve memory, because in your fifties and beyond it is not commonly known that once you go through menopause and beyond there are definitely memory issues. One of the cool things is that often for women experiencing lots of postmenopausal symptoms, you were prescribed oestrogen, but for women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer that is oestrogen receptor positive, you cannot prescribe oestrogen, but their lead compound could be prescribed to women who have oestrogen positive cancer. That is something that I am like, hey, if that was available today, that would be something that I would be able to take advantage of. They just closed on a seed round of funding, and I am hoping that I can connect them with more resources locally, as well as on the coasts. They won second place in the health sciences category in the Wisconsin governor’s business line competition. I know Rapid Radicals is in the running this year, so, we are just very excited about our startups.
Several very worthy choices there, I think, and very diverse, which is always interesting. We are almost out of time. I think we are out of time. Is there anything that you want to get out there before we say goodbye?
As a tech transfer director at Marquette, I definitely want to welcome any persons who happen to listen to this podcast, whether you are from industry, we want to work with you. We want to talk with you. We want you to look at our technologies. Whether it is investors, as you just heard, we have exciting startups, some of whom are looking or will be looking for funding. And if you want to explore ways to work with our students, we have talented students that will make you proud. So, be sure to contact me Kalpa Vithalani, firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have certainly put Marquette on the map for me and hopefully for quite a few listeners as well. Kalpa, it has been a huge pleasure to chat with you today and learn more about your work. Thank you so, much for joining me.
Thank you, Thierry. I really appreciate it.