NU system among nation's best in tech transfer

NU system among nation's best in tech transfer
Rankings reflect excellence in bringing university research to the marketplace

Shane Farritor
File Photo
Virtual Incision Corp., a medical device company focused on developing a miniature robot for general surgery abdominal procedures, is a spinoff of research by Nebraska engineering professor Shane Farritor (right) and UNMC surgeon Dmitry Oleynikov. A Milken Institute report recently ranked the NU system among the nation's best in technology transfer.

A new report measuring universities’ success in driving economic growth ranks the University of Nebraska system among the nation’s elite.

The Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank, recently released “The Best Universities for Technology Transfer.” The report ranks the system's tech transfer efforts 35th among a field of 225 – putting NU system institutions in the top 16 percent nationally for its ability to commercialize the work of its faculty in areas like agriculture, engineering and medicine for the benefit of people in the state and around the world.

“This report is more evidence that the University of Nebraska is in great company when it comes to our research and economic development efforts,” said President Hank Bounds. “We’ve made it a priority across all of our campuses to create a culture of innovation where bold and entrepreneurial thinking is encouraged. Our work is paying off. This ranking is a credit to the dedication and creativity of our faculty and the technology transfer offices that support them. Nebraska’s economy and our citizens are the beneficiaries.”

The Milken Institute’s rankings are based on data from the Association of University Technology Managers, the national trade organization for university tech transfer offices. Metrics include patents issued, licenses issued, licensing income and startups formed.

The No. 35 ranking places NU system institutions ahead of brand-name heavyweights like the Mayo Foundation (No. 36), Wisconsin (No. 40), North Carolina-Chapel Hill (No. 44), Ohio State (No. 55) and Princeton (No. 62). NU trailed Johns Hopkins by just two places.

“Nebraska innovation is changing lives. We are leaders in invention and enterprise, driven by the high-quality, relevant research from our faculty," Chancellor Ronnie Green said. "Our research is tied directly to real-world impacts – job creation, partnerships and business start-ups that power our state’s economy.”

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NU’s technology transfer offices – NUtech Ventures at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and UNeMed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center – work to bring university research to the marketplace, resulting in new startup companies, better jobs and new and innovative products that improve productivity and quality of life. NU is working to deepen relationships with companies in the state that can license faculty inventions for commercial use, the way Omaha-based Streck has done for a new molecular diagnostic platform.

For example, Virtual Incision Corp., a medical device company focused on developing a miniature robot for general surgery abdominal procedures, is a spinoff of research by Nebraska engineering professor Shane Farritor and UNMC surgeon Dmitry Oleynikov. Technology developed at Virtual Incision will transform surgeries into more affordable, less invasive procedures, improving lives and surgical outcomes for patients around the world.

Sally Mackenzie
Sally Mackenzie

Epicrop Technologies Inc., a startup founded by Nebraska faculty, is located at Nebraska Innovation Campus and is developing technology to improve crop yields. Epicrop’s unique technology, which the company is commercializing for use in corn, soybeans and wheat, can improve yields and stress tolerance without changing the DNA sequence of the plant. The company's technology is based on breakthrough epigenetic discoveries made by professor of agronomy and horticulture Sally Mackenzie’s research group.

Another company, Avert, is a startup spun from innovation at the Nebraska Biomechanics Core Facility at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Avert, which was recently among a select group of startups chosen to present at a national demonstration day, is about to launch a beta version of its concussion-detection device. Avert is developing its product in partnership with UNeTecH, a joint UNO-UNMC business incubator formed by the Board of Regents that brings biomedical technology innovations to market.

“It is exciting to see medicine and technology work together to break down silos and build bridges,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold. “The real finish line is when academic research changes a person’s life – takes their pain away, helps them walk more easily, speeds recovery time after an operation. Partnering with businesses and corporate communities can help us take our innovations and discoveries to the people who need them most, and I’m pleased to see by this ranking that we are accomplishing our goals.”

According to the Milken report, university commercialization efforts pumped more than 1,000 new startup companies and $2.5 billion into the national economy. The report concludes: “Research universities are one of the strongest assets America can use to compete in the age of innovation. Research funding should be a top priority for enhancing American economic growth.”

Its recommendations include:

  • Maintaining federal funding for basic science research.

  • Creating a federal fund to further support academic commercialization efforts.

  • Setting up a federal matching grant program to increase technology transfer staff and resources.

  • Creating a standard of best technology transfer practices at the state level.

The University of Utah claimed the top spot in Milken’s rankings, followed by Columbia University, the University of Florida, Brigham Young University and Stanford University.