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Editorial: Upping the ante for tech transfer

The issue is called technology transfer, and it has not been one of Maryland’s strengths.

For all of the state’s success in attracting research dollars to an array of universities and institutions with world-class experts and facilities, it has not matched that success in spinning off commercial ventures from that research to generate jobs and economic growth.

This gap has been of growing concern to leaders in business, academia and government. Now Gov. Martin O’Malley has set out to do something about it, albeit belatedly, and we applaud his effort.

The governor wants $250,000 every year from each of five research universities — the Johns Hopkins University; Morgan State University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Maryland, College Park. There is also a provision in the bill introduced last week for federal labs to participate.

The new fund will be used to finance expansion and refinement of promising technologies and to underwrite research of emerging technologies.

The Johns Hopkins University was quick to pledge its participation. Bryan D. Sivak, the governor’s chief innovation officer, says UMB and UMCP are also on board so far.

In addition, Sivak says O’Malley will seek another $5 million in state funds for the effort, called the “Maryland Innovation Initiative,” through a supplemental budget submitted later in the General Assembly session.

“There’s a big gap [in commercialization], the governor has recognized, and really everybody has recognized,” Sivak told The Daily Record’s Nicholas Sohr. “We need to fix this.”

On that point, Mr. Sivak is unquestionably right. What remains to be seen is whether the governor’s plan takes the right approach and brings the right mix of resources to the effort.

The state’s goal is to grow 40 technologies into businesses every year. The new effort will be part of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation.

“Part of it is cultural. Part of it is funding,” said Robert A. Rosenbaum, TEDCO’s president and executive director. “And part of it is just a mentality around researchers that needs to say ‘We need to more than just invent something in the lab. We need to do something that is marketable.’”

By its very nature, this will be a somewhat risky undertaking. Startups are challenging ventures, to say the least. The technology in technology-driven startups doesn’t always live up to expectations and isn’t always readily adaptable to commercial uses.

There will be successes but there will also be failures.

“The gap we’re trying to fill is getting that idea, that concept from research bench to venture capital stage,” says Patrick J. Hogan, associate vice-chancellor for government relations at the University System of Maryland. “The idea is to throw 20 darts and the wall, 20 small darts, and hope you get four or five winners.”

If that sounds a little scary, it is. But it’s a step Maryland has to take if it is to remain competitive in the high-tech economic environment.

One comment

  1. Technology transfer does not always have to involve a start up company. Maryland’s funds could be used to transfer a technology into an established company, one that is poised to accelerate growth by using this new innovation. This may decrease the risky undertaking and increase the level of success.