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Entrepreneur-in-residence program at NIH aims to spur tech transfer

BioHealth Innovation Inc. — a Rockville-based group that acts as a go-between for research institutions and the private sector — is expanding a partnership with the NIH that aims to make it easier to commercialize research done there.

The National Institutes of Health signed a multimillion-dollar contract with BioHealth Innovation (BHI) to extend and expand the organizations’ entrepreneur-in-residence program, said BHI President and CEO Richard Bendis, who declined to disclose the exact amount of the contract.

Under the agreement, the NIH will fund five entrepreneur-in-residence positions. These individuals — who have yet to be chosen — will be hired by BioHealth Innovation to work within divisions of the NIH to help researchers turn their discoveries into marketable products.

They will offer “commercial perspectives” on technology development, Bendis said.

The two organizations established the entrepreneur-in-residence program in 2012 to support the NIH’s mission of finding solutions to unmet clinical needs. There are two individuals in the program already. One works in the NIH’s Office of Technology Transfer; the other works in the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

The new contract will put entrepreneurs in additional institutes, including the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“By adding new [entrepreneurs-in-residence] within multiple institutes, we expand our ability to both support breakthrough technologies and to help identify new commercial opportunities working with national scientific experts,” Bendis said.

Bendis said the goal is to convert research into tangible health-related products. BioHealth Innovation helps facilitate commercialization by connecting startup companies and investors with various researchers.

Ideally, he said, BHI would find Maryland-based startup companies with which to partner, but the organization works with companies outside of the region, as well.

“We want to keep these technologies in our region, but we’d find the best partner, wherever they may be,” Bendis said. “But our primary goal is to keep the work within this region.”

BHI has entrepreneur-in-residence programs with other organizations, as well. One individual works with the University System of Maryland; another works at Johns Hopkins University, Bendis said.

BHI is “actively recruiting” individuals for the positions at the NIH, he said, adding that the process is “very competitive” and attracts applicants from all over the country.

Applicants should have commercialization and entrepreneurial experience, familiarity with business development, venture capital or portfolio management experience and the ability to interact with large, complex organizations.

Even if BHI’s entrepreneurs-in-residence help identify research with market potential, they (or BHI) won’t have automatic ownership of the product. That would have to be negotiated, Bendis said.

When the NIH releases research, companies and startup entrepreneurs compete to bring those discoveries to market.

“BHI and other organizations would fight for the right to commercialize [research from the NIH],” Bendis said. “But we would hope that by being there and having a relationship with them, that would enable us to do very well if we were competing.”

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.