WisBusiness: Tech transfer helps seed start-ups

By Brian Leaf

Milwaukee – What came first, the entrepreneur or the idea?

While much of this week’s Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference focused on developing and funding entrepreneurial ideas, attention was paid to organizations that have technology in need of entrepreneurs.

It’s technology transfer, taking patents and processes from government research labs and private industry and matching them with individuals that can build companies around it.

Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said there are 800 patents or processes that have come out of University of Wisconsin research that are available for licensing. These technologies are listed on WARF’s Web site.

Gulbrandsen said the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Affairs and the UW Research Park also have licensing opportunities.

"We’re just one leg of a three legged stool," Gulbrandsen said.

More opportunities exist through the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation in Racine. The center, known as CATI, solicits donations of intellectual property from private industry and licenses them to entrepreneurs. Matt Wagner, CATI’s executive director, said the center has more than $40 million in IP that has been donated.

There are vast numbers of patents and other intellectual property that are locked away in corporate vaults. Only 30 percent of the R&D developed by corporations ever makes it to market. The technology may be solid, but it may lack strategic importance, can’t generate a high enough return for big companies or was developed and patented so that a competitor couldn’t use it, Wagner said.

CATI is taking its donations, which are later-stage than most technologies, and searching for people to run with them. Wagner said that corporate IP often has commercial value because it was being developed for a specific market niche.

Now the challenge for CATI is to find entrepreneurs to exploit the technology.

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