Kicking Off a New Accelerator Class
By Lisa McDonald
[Editor's note: this article is the first in a series highlighting the Texas Tech Accelerator program. These articles will be written by the director of the program, Lisa McDonald. Lisa's goal is to give the campus community a look at the program and what the participants learn.]
Many of you reading this article have some level of familiarity with the Texas Tech Accelerator. For those of you who are not familiar with the program, please allow me the opportunity to introduce you to this re-designed offering on campus and invite you to follow us on this journey into entrepreneurship and technology commercialization. In saying "re-designed," I mean I listened to individuals on campus and made substantial changes to how the program will be run and whom it can (and should) serve. In addition to programmatic changes, Rob Duncan, senior vice president of research, made some structural changes. At the beginning of January, he announced that the accelerator will now be a function of Jennifer Horn's office. As Director of Translational Research and Entrepreneurialism, Jennifer is responsible for establishing programs that support the expansion of a knowledge-based economy based upon Texas Tech's research capabilities. I am very excited about working with Jennifer and serving the entrepreneurial needs of Texas Tech's faculty, students and staff.
The Texas Tech University accelerator officially launched its spring 2016 cohort on Saturday, Jan. 23 with an all-day Boot Camp. Attendees included all of the student participants, mentors for the cohort (who made the trip to Lubbock specifically to be a part of the event), a representative from founder.org out of NYC, and community members, such as representatives from the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance. Dr. Duncan opened the event with a first hand account of his experiences commercializing technologies he collaborated on and patented.
An informative overview of intellectual property, the Texas Tech University System disclosure process, and how the Office of Research Commercialization operates and serves faculty innovators was given by patent attorney and licensing associate Cameron Smith.
Mentors and subject matter experts are critical to the success of the program and mentor Paul Zukowski made the trip from Dallas to Lubbock to meet with student participants, program administrators and university leadership. Mr. Zukowski delivered a presentation that both motivated and excited the audience with his account of launching his first company, here in Lubbock, its subsequent acquisition by Sprint, and his entrepreneurial path since then. We are most grateful to Mr. Zukowski for making the trip, his insightful presentation and commitment to mentor the student teams and work with the faculty inventors to move their technologies to market.
In addition to Mr. Zukowski, the accelerator boasts a mentor pool of more than 30 experts who have volunteered their time, expertise and networks to this program. All of the mentors have entrepreneurial, intrapreneurial, and commercialization experience and are excited to contribute to the success of the program. Our mentors have deep domain experience in many industries, including IT, oil & gas, life sciences and medical devices.
The Accelerator Process
The teams of student participants were selected and recommended to participate based on their interviews with an independent selection committee comprised of program mentors, university faculty and staff. Student participants, identified as New Venture Consultants, come from all over campus, the law school and the Texas Tech University Health Science Center. These students were assigned to teams based on their major, ability to quickly understand the technologies they will be working with and their ability to communicate with the faculty inventor on a technical level. Their skills, matched with the experience of their team mentors, will assist faculty inventors move their technologies closer to market in a manner that investigates market potential by accessing and networking with industry.
Over the course of the semester long program, the venture teams will attend workshops designed to teach them fundamental principles of technology commercialization and how to deploy these skills in a professional manner that collects real time market feedback for the purposes of identifying potential strategic partners, licensees and development of a commercialization plan relevant to their technology. I developed the curriculum teams are taught based on my career experience and education in the field of technology commercialization.
Since coming to Texas Tech to lead the accelerator, I have made substantial changes to the way the program is run, specifically with respect to how faculty inventors are involved in the process and outcomes. Before technologies were assigned to new venture teams and their respective mentors, faculty inventors were contacted, informed of the possibility to have their technology accelerated through the program, and asked if they would approve. If faculty declined the offer, the decision and is respected. For the faculty who chose to participate, they were offered the opportunity and encouraged to participate in the process on a level they were comfortable with and their schedules allowed.
As the venture teams start the process, many of the New Venture Consultants have enthusiastically expressed their interest in the field of technology commercialization, excitement to work with faculty inventors and dedication to the program and process.
Lisa McDonald is director of the Texas Tech Accelerator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.