Chancellor Douglas A. Girod

National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer University Startups Conference

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Remarks as prepared for delivery.


Good afternoon.

It’s a pleasure to be here to deliver today’s co-host keynote address.

I’m especially honored to share the stage with President Proenza, who as you just heard, is taking the University of Akron in an exciting direction with regard to research commercialization and tech transfer. Like many universities represented here today, Akron is an organization we can emulate and learn from.

As you know and have discussed this morning, we gather today amid a social, economic and political climate that is, in many ways, like nothing we’ve seen. An increasingly complex global economy is changing everything we thought we knew about our economic system, including the role of universities in that system. At the same time, citizens, donors & funding agencies are demanding more from universities than ever before.

Research universities have always had a multifaceted mission that includes educating tomorrow’s leaders, conducting research and providing services that improve our lives.

But that mission is always evolving.

And today, for a variety of reasons, it’s evolving to include a heightened focus on economic development. More specifically, universities are being asked to do better at commercializing research and transforming discovery into marketplace solutions.

We’re being asked to create more startups, to license more technologies, and to translate our research into life-changing products and cures.

This is the new focus for universities.

A new reality,

A new responsibility.

I suspect that most of you here embrace that responsibility.

One of the reasons I’m so proud to be at KU is that we’ve embraced this responsibility and committed ourselves to research commercialization in an unprecedented way.

When I arrived at KU in 2009, a transformation was underway, and I was fortunate to inherit a staff that was already committed to translational research. In subsequent years, we’ve built from that foundation and taken our commercialization and entrepreneurship efforts to the next level.

Today, research commercialization is among the highest priorities at KU. It is being integrated into virtually everything we do. It’s embedded, in multiple ways, in our new strategic plan.

For the first time, both the number of startups we create and the amount of technology we bring to market are formal metrics for how we’ll judge ourselves –  and how we’ll be judged by our Board of Regents.

This, of course, is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. But it’s a clear indication of how serious we are about commercialization.

I’d like to share a few additional examples of how KU has embraced a commitment to commercialization and tech transfer in recent years.

Among the most obvious examples was the creation last year of a new associate vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship.

We didn’t just create this position. We went out and filled it with one the best in the business: Julie Goonewardene, who’s with us here today.

Many of you have known Julie for years and are familiar with her outstanding work at Purdue. Since coming to Kansas, Julie has had an incredible effect on faculty, staff, students, alumni and the investment community. She continues to encourage innovation, provide training, seek pilot and startup funding and promote the introduction of commercializable research into the marketplace.

And I can tell you, folks – she’s just getting warmed up.

Another example of our commitment to commercialization and technology transfer is the Bioscience and Technology Business Center, a KU-based incubator network that now comprises 15 tenants, making it the largest network in Kansas and one of the largest in the Midwest.

A partnership between KU and various economic development organizations, the Bioscience Technology and Business Center provides tenants with state-of-the-art facilities, as well as business support services such as capital-raising and consulting.

Most importantly, this Center provides tenants direct access to KU resources and researchers.

Tenants so far include household names like Garmin, Assurant, and Ligand Pharmaceuticals, along with a number of early stage companies and KU spinouts.

Additionally, our Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis is collaborating with agricultural commodities leader, Archer Daniels Midland, on a biorefining initiative, and potentially a new open-innovation model that could encourage additional corporate partnerships.

Another example of our commitment to commercialization is our partnership with BioPontis Alliance, a new enterprise designed to narrow the gap between university drug research and pharmaceutical company application – or as it’s commonly known, the Valley of Death.

BioPontis is a unique hybrid firm that combines early stage capital investment with early stage drug development. It has formed a relationship with three pharmaceutical leaders: Merck, Pfizer and the Janssen Biotech unit of Johnson & Johnson. BioPontis uses its knowledge of these companies’ product priorities to seek out and evaluate relevant drug research at selected universities.

At the same time, the pharmaceutical partners contribute to the design and conduct of critical drug development objectives, ensuring that new drug candidates meet their technical and regulatory standards.

KU is one of only 10 institutions chosen by BioPontis to participate in the alliance.

The others are: the universities of Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, Columbia, NYU, and Penn, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Thomas Jefferson University, and Oregon Health and Sciences University.

Our commitment to commercialization has been especially apparent in the area of healthcare. In fact, in June 2011, the University of Kansas Medical Center received a $19.8 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health. This five-year grant puts our medical center among a select 60-member group of universities collaborating on clinical and translational research.

With its new grant, KU Medical Center has created a program called Frontiers, greatly expanding the reach of its existing Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, which has been the center of clinical and translational research for Kansas and the greater Kansas City region.

And perhaps nowhere is KU’s success in translational research more apparent than in cancer drug development.

For example, Val Stella and his colleagues are responsible for the formulation of eight of the 17 drugs advancing to clinical trials in the National Cancer Institute Drug Discovery and Development Program.

And one final illustration of KU’s commitment to commercialization and translational research: In August 2011, two KU researchers were awarded prestigious Coulter Foundation Awards for Translational Research, of which there were only 15 nationally. The winners were Michael Detamore, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering; and Jennifer Laurence, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry.

KU was the only university to have multiple winners, a distinction that speaks well of the entrepreneurial mindset we’re encouraging in our faculty.

Certainly, we’re proud of the external acclaim these two Coulter Award winners have brought KU. But just as important, Michael and Jennifer serve as role models internally for other KU researchers. Again, our goal is to make commercialization part of the culture at KU and to impress upon our faculty that each one of them can – and should strive to –create value, and to make a contribution, that can be translated into a workforce solution.

That’s a powerful message.

These are just some of the reasons why I’m so excited to be at the University of Kansas.

Kansas, like so many of the other great universities represented here today, has embraced its responsibility to drive economic development, to help build healthy communities, and to conduct research and create technologies that improve our quality of life and address our world’s grand challenges.

I would close with the following thought from former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke: “It’s not tenable for the United States to continue with the status quo,where we take a buckshot approach to research and hope that, eventually, there will be some commercialization.

“Researchers, especially those relying on taxpayer dollars, need to understand that while the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is and always will be important, we’ve got to do a better job focusing on lines of discovery that have real potential to spawn new industries, new businesses and new jobs.”

And at the end of the day, it comes down to commitment.

It’s about a commitment to identifying commercializable university Intellectual Property on our campuses.

It’s about encouraging our researchers to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, so that they aspire to translate their research into marketplace solutions.

And it’s about giving them the tools they need to do it.

If we can do these things, we will continue to position our universities in their rightful place – as centers of discovery and engines of economic growth.

Thank you.

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times
Chancellor's Vision

The mission of the University of Kansas is to lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities, and making discoveries that change the world.

We will do that by raising the expectations we have for ourselves, the aspirations we have for our state, and the hopes we have for our world.