Petri dish in a lab

Innovation in Bloomington

Tech Manager Tips

In each edition of Innovation in Bloomington, we ask IURTC technology managers for comments and advice to IU researchers and inventors about the innovation and commercialization process. This issue features Wes Pennington, who recently was named Discovery Scientist for the IU Bloomington campus.

Wes Pennington

Q: Having served as an IURTC technology manager for several years, how would you describe a typical first encounter with a researcher who -- for the first time -- is presenting an idea he or she believes may be marketable? What types of questions do they ask? Have many of them expressed reticence about coming forward with an idea sooner, out of fear of the unknown or what the process involves?

A: "When speaking with faculty, staff or students for the first time about commercialization, the conversation generally unfolds in one of two ways: 1) The inventor is incredibly enthusiastic about their idea or 2) They are hesitant to speak about their technology.

"While both these instances fall on opposite ends of the same spectrum, in either case, I always try to identify a way to add value and find it beneficial to start the dialogue by explaining the basics of the commercialization process and how IURTC can assist. This tends to lay the groundwork for a productive discussion, which ultimately is centered around what success would look like for the individual or group.

"What is often most surprising to the people we work with is the variety of ways that commercialization can unfold in the university environment and how IURTC works to catalyze this process. While, admittedly, the commercialization of early-stage technologies can be challenging, it is this complexity that often prevents individuals from reaching out sooner, regardless of their enthusiasm. However, while IURTC exists as a resource for the university, I explain how we work to put structure and support around this process as we work to develop a commercialization strategy that reflects both the opportunity and the inventors' interest and intent."

Q: What tends to be their greatest fear or concern about entering the entrepreneurial or commercialization process? And how do you try to allay those concerns?

A: "Faculty, staff, and students face the same concerns that all entrepreneurs do, ranging from a desire not to fail to lack of knowledge of where to even start. One can argue that this is further amplified in the university setting as these individuals represent the best and brightest in their respective fields, where they are accustomed to both success and know-how.

"However, unlike many entrepreneurs, university-based venturers have a tremendous amount of institutional structure and support at their disposal from IURTC and otherwise. Aside from highlighting this and demonstrating how IURTC can assist in the commercialization process, it is also helpful to encourage and develop an entrepreneurial mindset that includes a curiosity for the unknown, a tolerance for ambiguity, the acceptance of failure and the determination to learn and persevere.

"In this way, the entrepreneurial process becomes very similar to that which many of these inventors apply to their work as researchers and they feel right at home."