Goal: Accelerate the introduction and growth of new technologies and products derived from research in Virginia.
Commercialization is the process of taking intellectual property resulting from research and development to market and generating financial value through licensing and sales. Products and services based on new technology are introduced to the market to determine if they meet a market demand or otherwise add value to the company. Commercialization here refers specifically to licensing, startup, industry collaboration, and consulting connected to university research and development.
The number of licenses issued by Virginia’s universities edged upwards in 2015 while the number of active licenses and licensing income decreased. The number of startup businesses based on university intellectual property increased, and the cumulative number of startups surpassed last year’s high. These numbers do not include other university startup activity, including faculty and student business startups that are not based on the institution’s intellectual property. Virginia universities support commercialization through other avenues as well, including research sponsored by business, financial support for seed and proof-of-concept funds, incentives for faculty to engage in entrepreneurship and commercialization activities, and provision of makerspaces and incubator/accelerator facilities and services.
Why is commercialization important?
Colleges and universities are increasingly being called upon to commercialize their discoveries in order to boost economic development. One method is through nurturing university startups, which account for a relatively small but growing number of high-growth, entrepreneurial ventures. Technology transfer from universities also boosts the growth of firms in the state through new commercial products and innovative business production processes based on licensed technologies. Commercialization provides revenue that helps support university research and development activities and incentivizes faculty production of translational research. Universities also forge closer links with business and industry that establish mechanisms for sharing knowledge, foster future research collaboration, and create internship and career opportunities for students and graduates.
How has Virginia performed over the last five years?
The number of licenses has increased since 2011 when 114 university licenses were issued. In 2015, 138 licenses were issued. The cumulative number of active licenses issued by Virginia’s universities jumped was 787 in 2014. In 2015, total active licenses decreased to 732.
Licensing revenue often results from licenses executed several years earlier, and a small number of licenses may disproportionately affect revenue. Total licensing revenue reported by Virginia’s research universities declined from $10.1 million in 2011 to $6.2 million in 2013 before rebounding to $8.2 million in 2014. Licensing revenue fell, in 2015 to $7.3 million. On a per capita basis, Virginia raised an average of $0.870 of licensing revenue per capita in 2015, compared to a national average of $6.06 per capita, ranking it 36th among U.S. states. This per capita revenue was lower than all benchmark states. The nation’s leader was New York at $27.62 per capita.
The number of university startups that begin operations based on licensed technology each year increased from 15 startups in 2011, to 17 startups in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, 24 university startups resulted. Of the 24 startups, 17 startups established operations within the Commonwealth of Virginia. The cumulative total number of active startups from current and previously issued licenses increased steadily from 74 in 2011 to 109 in 2015. Virginia universities produced 2.62 startups per one million residents in 2014. This is lower than the national average of 2.96 per million; Virginia ranked 24th among states. It was also lower than all benchmark states except Texas. The nation’s leader was Utah at 8.34 startups per million residents.
Many university commercialization and technology transfer activities are unrelated to licensed technology. For example, Virginia institutions reported that there were 114 startups by students; some of these were based on university-licensed technology. In addition, Virginia colleges and universities work closely with business and industry to foster innovation. Virginia institutions had sponsored research relationships with an estimated 1,039 companies in FY2015. These numbers are likely under-reported, as reporting these activities is not always required.
Virginia’s higher education institutions have increased institutional support for innovation and commercialization. Most public research universities have tenure policies that recognize faculty accomplishments in entrepreneurship and commercialization. Seven Virginia public universities that responded to a 2016 survey reported establishing five makerspaces that provide technology and equipment and collaboration/learning space for students, faculty, and the public to experiment and invent products for commercial use. Total square footage of college and university makerspace in FY15 was 13,111. Six institutions offer incubation/accelerator programs for startups, including George Mason University, James Madison University, Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Tech. In addition, four institutions (George Mason University, James Madison University, the University of Virginia, and Virginia Tech) reported seed and/or proof-of-concept funds that provided a total of $3,525,000 in available funding during FY2015.
What are the implications?
Virginia’s universities are an important resource for sustaining and growing an innovation-based economy. The number of business startups increased from 2011 to 2015. However, the startup rate continues to lags behind most benchmark states and the nation. The number of licenses issued increased in 2015, while licensing revenue declined. The Commonwealth was significantly lower than the nation and benchmark states on a per capita basis for licensing revenue in 2015. Virginia’s universities increasingly demonstrate support for increased commercialization through incubator and accelerator startup programs, seed and proof-of-concept funds, numerous sponsored research relationships, and additional entrepreneurial activities of faculty, staff, and students.
Data Sources and Definitions:
Each IEMS indicator reports data available as of September 29, 2016 and provides a description of trends for five years of historical data when available.
University Licenses and Startups: Data from the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) Statistics Access for Tech Transfer (STATT) Database: http://www.autm.net/source/STATT/index.cfm?section=STATT. Released in September. Virginia public university data for 2014 and 2015 was supplemented with information from individual institutions, including those who did not report to AUTM for the year. A license is a contract that allows the purchaser of the licensed technology to share the rights to use of the technology. Also included in the license total are options on licenses. Licensed income includes “license issue fees, payments under options, annual minimums, running royalties, termination payments, the amount of equity received when cashed-in, and software and biological material end-user license fees equal to $1,000 or more.” University startups are companies that depended on the institution’s licensed technology to begin operations. For state and national comparison purposes, only AUTM data was used.
Population: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates (legacy estimates): https://www.census.gov/popest/index.html. Released in December.
Other University Commercialization Information: Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) spring 2016 University Survey. Based on responses from the College of William and Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Virginia Tech.