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Vanderbilt steps-up effort to help faculty create ventures, market products
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VU's Chris McKinney is steward for hundreds of patents and invention disclosures, marketing new products, and a 20-company startup portfolio

Vanderbilt University is strengthening its staff, budget and technology for spawning new ventures and for marketing technologies and educational materials that have been developed by Vanderbilt faculty and staff.

VU Office of Technology Transfer and Enterprise Development Director Chris McKinney, Ph.D., told VNC the expansion of OTTED activities and resources is intended to increase licensing revenue that totaled $8.4 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2007.

Although Vanderbilt has not yet publicly released FY2008 financials, it's likely the numbers will take OTTED past the $30 million mark for licensing revenue generated during McKinney's tenure as director.

McKinney recently told VNC, "I am pleased to report that we've built a great team, have a robust pipeline of technologies, and are doing a wide range of commercial deals that, I believe, will catapult Vanderbilt into the most elite ranks of major research university technology commercialization in the coming years."

Vanderbilt executives, including McKinney and his staff, have been increasingly active in recent years in such groups as Nashville Capital Network, Angel Capital Group, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation (TTDC), Mind2Marketplace and other pro-venture and commercialization groups.

Now, Vanderbilt is picking-up the pace, further.  For example, OTTED recently launched its "Startups Breakfast Club," a quarterly gathering of faculty who either are or would like to become "entrepreneurially active."  The event attracted faculty associated with the founding of Pathfinder Therapeutics, Universal Robotics and other Vanderbilt portfolio companies.

OTTED also helped recruit faculty members to participate last week in TTDC's statewide innovation conference, here in Nashville. That program afforded scientists time to discuss their work informally with venture capitalists experienced in commercializing technologies.

Vanderbilt is also touting its readiness to accelerate the translation of Vanderbilt intellectual property into products that can be sold directly to end-users through online transactions.

OTTED recently selected a half-dozen technology and education products out of the hundreds of items in its inventory for unprecedented sale via the department's new VU e-Innovation website. The first six products have been on-sale previously through other channels, but now they are on-display in Vanderbilt's electronic storefront.

The e-Innovation products include software for determing whether Federal regulations allow export of sensitive technology or information (ListVUe); an educational video series that helps parents address aggressive behavior among children (Play Nicely); software to help radiologists determine how much radiation specific organs will experience during dosing (OLINDA/EXM); tools to help scientists manage time intervals for observational research and embed and analyze search-tags in video-monitoring content (INTman, Procoder, MOOSES)

Thus far, the effort to sell Vanderbilt technology to consumers is very small, when compared with the university's government- and foundation-sponsored research, which in 2007 passed the $500 million annual mark.

Supporting the ramp-up of entrepreneurial activity, McKinney recently expanded his staff by four, to 18. Newcomers include former Nashville Capital Network Administrator Lien Vo-Jones, who joined McKinney's shop to support startup companies and assesses commercial potential of Vanderbilt technologies.

In addition, Lisa McWilliams joined McKinney's crew to market technologies and strengthen the department's communications with stakeholders within the university. She was previously a real-estate marketing coordinator in Charleston, S.C.

OTTED also recently hired Lee Bridges, who is a data analyst and programmer tasked with maintaining licensing data, managing data access and supporting the department's information-technology requirements. An OTTED release said Bridges' background spans libarianship, programming and training for companies and academic institutions.

Also, Franklin-based Acuity Marketing Communications Inc. is developing and maintaining OTTED's new e-commerce site, dubbed VU e-Innovations. Other contractors, including Cummins Station-based Digital Dog Inc., are supporting promotional of individual VU technology products.

McKinney was elevated to his current post five years ago, upon the merger of VU's office of technology transfer and Vanderbilt University Technology Corporation (VUTC). He explained to VNC earlier this year that VUTC was a short-lived spin-out that had been previously been integrated within the university as the office of enterprise development. He said that prior to the merger in 2003, OTT was focused on the patenting-licensing & faculty service areas, while VUTC/OED's role was "to do startups and pre-seed/seed investing" in those startups. All that's now combined under the OTTED umbrella.

Under McKinney, OTTED's portfolio has grown from 15 active companies to 20, with the most recent investment and-or licensing transactions including Nashville-based Universal Robotics, which provides advanced robotic systems for the materials-handling industry; and, Birmingham-based Acuitec LLC, which provides information systems for medical operating rooms.

Explaining the department's role in advancing new ventures, the OTTED website says, in part, "...OTTED maintains the ability to co-invest in multiple rounds of financing on an ad hoc basis in compelling value propositions led by seasoned management teams.  Typically, OTTED will initially participate as part of a syndicate in seed-stage rounds of financing totaling $500,000 to $1.5 million.  Follow-on investments in subsequent rounds are considered as the companies advance and meet defined development milestones."

In the 18 years since Vanderbilt launched formal technology-commercialization efforts, in 1990, the university has occasionally generated annual license income greater than 2007's $8.4 million.  For example, the figure reported for 2002 by the then-freestanding Office of Technology Transfer was $12 million.

Prior to joining Vanderbilt in 2001, McKinney worked in tech transfer with the University of Tennessee Research Corporation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Florida and the Idaho National Engineering
Laboratory. He earned his doctorate in political science in 1990 at Idaho State University, having earlier earned an MBA at Oregon State and his bachelor's at Willamette University.

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Tags: Acuity Marketing Communications, Angel Capital Group, Chris McKinney, commercialization, Digital Dog, e-commerce, e-Innovation, innovation, intellectual property, Lee Bridges, Lisa McWilliams, Mind2Marketplace, Nashville Capital Network. Lien Vo-Jones, Office of Technology Transfer and Development, patents, Pathfinder Therapeutics, software, technology, technology transfer, Tennessee Technology Development Corporation, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University Technology Corporation

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