Difficulties of moving technology ideas from university research labs to commercialization have concerned CIMS since its inception in 1984. Now, a collaboration with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center could lead to, among other benefits, a more market-driven approach to technology development than has heretofore been the norm.
The NC Biotechnology Center (www.ncbiotech.org) was the first government - sponsored organization dedicated to developing the biotechnology industry, explains Mary Beth Thomas, senior director of its Centers of Innovation Operations. More than 20 years old and funded largely by the state’s General Assembly, the Biotech Center supports the biotech industry through grants and loans on multiple fronts — from funding academic research and its application to workforce development to business loans for early-stage biotech companies.
Last year, the Biotechnology Center received additional funding from the state to initiate a grant program called the Centers of Innovation. Its goal, Thomas told CIMS TMR: to establish a network of self-sustaining centers designed to catalyze the state’s efforts in biotechnology research, development and commercialization in targeted industrial sectors important to economic development and job creation. “These virtual centers will be established by academic - industry consortia that recognize the specific strengths that North Carolina has to offer in the targeted industries,” she said. “At their core, the Centers of Innovation will be practicing open innovation where the premiums are on collaboration and partnership; where the creation of a market-driven approach will be the driving force; where an established network of academic and industry partners will provide expanded opportunities in the most cost-effective manner. As such, these Centers will be virtual with a small administrative staff working to draw upon and align targeted research capabilities, thereby fostering commercialization through company creation and by strengthening industry ties within the state.”
What COIs Will Do
So far, four COI planning grants have been funded: marine biotechnology, advanced medical technologies, nanobiotechnology, and natural biotechnology. The ultimate goal is for each COI to create a selfsustaining business. Meanwhile, Thomas reports that the Biotech Center’s work with CIMS has highlighted four key activities that each virtual COI must balance in order to be successful:
1. Knowledge management where two key business processes — Technology Development and Product Development — will produce additional data that allow a COI’s management team to follow a strategic decision-making process.
2. Risk management in which the COI performs a sufficient amount of research on a specific technology to remove some of the early risk. In turn, this effort earns the confidence of other stakeholders who will ultimately move the technology through development stages that require more capital.
3. Collaboration is key. Given their virtual nature, the true strength of a COI will be not only in the identification of ideas, people and partners but in their ability to connect all of these together in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.
4. Value creation is the ultimate goal. As new technologies and opportunities are brought to the fore, the executive staff of the COI will strive to create value by: 1) having a comprehensive understanding of their market, and 2) the ability to analyze and optimize the portfolio of projects to move the most commercially viable projects ahead.
Ideally, an established COI will be able to:
• Demonstrate the coordination of technology development and resource application across the state.
• Focus strongly on industry-academic alliances.
• Track new company creation, company attraction, and existing industry transformation.
• Create jobs.
“These are lofty goals,” Thomas concludes. “But they will only be achieved if new, innovative strategies are engaged in the problem solving efforts. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center along with our NCSU CIMS colleagues aims to do exactly that.”