A couple weeks ago, I ruminated on the paradoxical, somewhat schizophrenic, certainly existential world of university technology transfer. Aside from the utter delight expressed by a couple philosophy majors who read the post, the most common response was a simple, WTF?
Rather than toss me into a bout of SAD syndrome, it got me thinking about the lowly tardigrade. Tardigrades are probably the most important organism you’ve never heard of. In fact, they may explain how life evolved…not just on this planet, but possibly in our universe.
Tardigrades are among a rare form of life that engage in cryptobiosis – an ametabolic state of life entered into in response to adverse environmental conditions. It basically means an organism can stop all metabolic procedures for an indefinite period of time and then return to its normal functionality after the environmental conditions improve. Now wouldn’t that be an interesting capability for an astronaut and some plants traveling to a distant planet?! But closer to home, Biomatrica, originally launched with the help of CONNECT, which itself was created to help transfer technology and startups out of UC San Diego, has pioneered and patented technology for stabilizing biological materials dry at ambient temperature based on the natural biological mechanisms of tardigrades.
Returning to space, the Panspermia Hypothesis contends that life is distributed within and around the universe by meteoroids, asteroids and comets that carry things like … maybe a cryptobiotic tardigrade. So, at places like NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they build things like the Mars Rover and search for life, they take the Panspermia Hypothesis and cryptobiosis pretty seriously. No one wants to spend billions of dollars and decades of work only to learn that the life we discovered on a distant planet was carried there by us. Yeah, it’s rocket science.
And how is that connected to the commercialization of university research? Well, one method for avoiding such an embarrassing situation was developed by Caltech scientists and then successfully commercialized with the help of the Caltech Office of Technology Transfer. Verrix, a Caltech spinout, developed a technology that quantitatively monitors endospore viability in as little as 15 minutes using a patented time-gated Tb3+-DPA luminescence microscopy technique. They’ve applied their method for detecting pathogens to a wide variety of applications, from healthcare to food safety.
While all that sounds really complicated, the Caltech OTT will be the first to say it is just the opposite. The office is small, smart, and nimble. They focus on disclosures, patents and startups. Because of their small size, they must be collaborative. Rather than get bogged down in legalese and fine print, they try to make the process easy for students, professors, and entrepreneurs alike.
Ultimately, it comes down to five things. The Caltech OTT team
- Knows their product;
- Understands target markets and their potential customers;
- Builds strong relationships;
- Executes mutually beneficial deals; and
- Provides excellent customer service.
Sounds like the Caltech folks know what all entrepreneurs should know. Hmmm. Maybe it isn’t rocket science.
How does it work in your organization?