Partners in Commercialization

University of Utah Campus

Partners in Commercialization

Campus programs the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, EFS, CMI, and CEI are essential to commercialization at the U

The accomplishments the U has enjoyed over the past few decades in the area of technology commercialization have not been accidental. One of the primary reasons for this success has been due to the unique spirit of collaboration and impact that pervades this campus. As Vivian Lee, CEO of University of Utah Health Care, has put it, “Our ecology breaks down silos, spawns collaboration, and organizes innovation around its most central core for success: great ideas.” Whether as a direct result of this spirit of collaboration or as a driver behind it, many interdisciplinary groups have emerged as key players in the commercialization process on campus. The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, the Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars (EFS), the Center for Medical Innovation (CMI), and the Center for Engineering Innovation (CEI) are each a key source of new discoveries on campus, as well as crucial drivers of their development. Each fills a unique but interconnected niche that together produces a total effect on commercialization at the U that is greater than the sum of their individual contributions.

Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute

Lassonde New Venture Development Center students. Photo Credit: Thad Kelling.

The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is a nationally ranked center within the David Eccles School of Business that focuses on student entrepreneurship and innovation. It was the first program at the U to emphasize these disciplines and is largely viewed as the catalyst from which the highly successful innovation and entrepreneurship movement at the U emerged. It started as a single project in 2001 following a donation from successful entrepreneur, gold investor, and U alumnus, Pierre Lassonde. This initial program, called the Lassonde New Venture Development Center, focuses on helping graduate students from nearly all majors and backgrounds commercialize faculty inventions. The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute has since grown tremendously to include more than 20 additional programs as well as a new $45 million dollar building on campus called Lassonde Studios, where 416 students live with other entrepreneurial-minded students to create and launch new companies.

The Lassonde New Venture Development Center has had a significant impact on commercialization at the U. Prior to Lassonde’s involvement with faculty inventions in 2001, TVC (then the Technology Transfer Office) was, like nearly all other technology transfer operations at the time, focused on simply handing off the intellectual property emerging from the U’s labs to existing companies with little internal development taking place. The New Venture Development Center’s focus on de-risking technologies, doing in-depth market evaluations, researching competitors, developing business models, and determining funding strategies for U technologies was groundbreaking for its time, and is largely the basis from which the Commercialization Engine Program that TVC launched in 2011 emerged.

Some of the first projects New Venture Development Center students worked on were inventions from Glenn Prestwich, Presidential Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Special Presidential Assistant for Faculty Entrepreneurism at the U. Some of the first projects New Venture Development Center students worked on were inventions from Glenn Prestwich, Presidential Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Special Presidential Assistant for Faculty Entrepreneurism at the U. These resulted in three successful U-spinout companies: Carbylan Biosurgery, Sentrx Animal Care, and Glycosan Biosystems, each of which came from a separate field of use being recognized for the technologies behind previously founded U-spinout Sentrx Surgical, a regenerative medicine company with licenses to some of Prestwich’s inventions. According to Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of Lassonde, “this early success got the attention of many faculty members on campus and raised our profile.” Within a few short years, the New Venture Development Center had more projects than its teams could work on.

Altogether, New Venture Development Center students have helped over 250 faculty inventions as well as 48 of the U’s spinouts, including being instrumental in the success of Lineagen, Navillum, and Veritract among many others. Currently, New Venture Development Center students work on faculty inventions that TVC has questions about or needs more information on. “We have the ability to do in-depth dives of technologies for TVC for six months or a year that they simply do not have the luxury of doing,” explains D’Ambrosio. “TVC has to deal with volume and does not have the resources to devote the time and manpower to the invention disclosures they assign us that we can.”

Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars (EFS)

Dale Clayton, professor of biology, making a point at an EFS event. Photo Credit: Thad Kelling.

Glenn Prestwich launched EFS in 2007. Originally the Entrepreneurial Faculty Advisors, EFS was the first faculty entrepreneur group ever established in an academic setting, with a focus on mentoring and networking to facilitate the commercialization of faculty inventions. Seasoned faculty with extensive experience in commercialization help innovative faculty who are just starting down this path to understand and navigate the often perilous translational and commercialization waters. The EFS also encourages faculty to act as mentors to their entrepreneurial-minded students, a group Prestwich believes is essential for creating a sustainable “culture of impact” on campus. The EFS also hosts and participates in multiple networking, innovation, translational medicine, and transdisciplinary research programs throughout the year.

Glenn Prestwich, founder of EFS, Presidential Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, and Special Presidential Assistant for Faculty Entrepreneurism at the U

The EFS has had a very tangible long-term effect on commercialization at the U. Its programs have greatly improved the communication between faculty and TVC, which has in turn increased disclosures, patents, company startups, and the success of U-spinouts. The EFS also established the Distinguished Innovation and Impact Award, presented annually at graduation to faculty whose innovations have had significant impacts on people’s lives. Moreover, the EFS has established innovation and impact as a priority for faculty retention, promotion, tenure, and for transforming the student experience at the U.

Center for Medical Innovation (CMI)

According to John Langell, executive director of CMI and assistant professor of surgery, “physicians and nurses see the real pain points in medicine. They know what needs to be fixed. They generally don’t, however, have the necessary engineering, business, or law experience to actually fix these problems. As such, many pain points in medicine often go unaddressed.” Determined to correct this, Langell—together with colleagues from Bioengineering, Business, and Law—formed CMI in 2012. Its goal is to help faculty and students conceptualize, materialize, and commercialize inventions that address market needs in the medical space by bringing people together from multiple disciplines. It does this by offering a number of educational programs such as BioInnovate and Bioimmersion; providing in-house services such as advanced prototyping, regulatory compliance aid, simulations, and patent filing; partnering with over 65 companies and investors outside of the U; mentoring, by giving inventors access to over 100 experienced advisers; and through cash-award competitions such as Bench-to-Bedside.

John Langell, director of CMI, addressing the audience at a Bench-to-Bedside event. Photo Credit: Thad Kelling.

CMI had originally planned to accelerate mostly faculty inventions but they soon realized that most of the drive for innovation was coming from pure student-driven intellectual property. A certain percentage of faculty in Health Sciences have found it more advantageous for them to simply report a pain point that they have identified and then let CMI address it rather than to create a solution themselves. CMI compiles a list of these pain points and allows the multidisciplinary teams of graduate and post-doctoral students in the BioInnovate program to choose the one that is most interesting to them, or to address a pain point of their own choosing. These teams are then given the resources and education to solve that problem by taking it from concept to reality.

In the four short years since its launch, CMI has seen remarkable success. 37 companies have been launched from its programs and over $5.5 million dollars in investment funds have been raised for these companies. Two of these spinouts, Veritas Medical and StreamDx, are likely headed for particularly bright futures. Veritas, a pure student intellectual property company that emerged from the BioInnovate program, has won numerous awards including this year’s Utah Innovation Awards in the medical devices category, and has won multiple business plan competitions as well. Their Light Line™ catheter uses a unique kind of light to kill bacteria to prevent the occurrence of catheter-caused infections. StreamDx had its beginnings with CMI a few years ago when Jim Hotaling, assistant professor of urology, provided a BioInnovate team with a problem relating to Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS) in men. The company, which is rapidly approaching commercialization, now has an advanced prototype that will allow accurate measurements of urinary stream flow be done at home, something not currently available.

Center for Engineering Innovation (CEI)

James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology Building, home of CEI

At the U, disclosing an invention to TVC is almost always the first in a long series of steps that must occur in order for that discovery to reach the market. A significant portion of the inventions that TVC receives must meet important technological and scaling milestones before they can be commercialized. Due to their highly technical nature, it can often be difficult for U technologies to find a partner sophisticated and specialized enough to help them achieve these milestones, especially in the field of engineering. With a large number of both U and non-U engineering technologies having difficulty finding such a partner, CEI was launched in 2013 to address this need.

CEI provides highly specialized, fee-based engineering services to faculty researchers, businesses, entrepreneurs, and inventors. It offers prototype development, general contract engineering and research services, in-vitro and in-vivo pre-clinical medical device testing, and micro and nanotechnology development. According to Florian Solzbacher, CEI’s director, no other publicly accessible facility in Utah can provide the number of capabilities, density of unique and complex tools, and access to a deep reservoir of knowledge in highly advanced technologies and their respective application fields and markets than CEI can.

CEI is also in the matchmaking business. It leverages its relationships with many of the other centers and labs on campus to establish collaborations and partnerships for its clients when a multidisciplinary approach is required.

Equipment in one of CEI’s labs

From 2013-2015 CEI participated in 41 research partnerships and interacted with 13 U departments and 42 companies on 92 projects, including a number of U engineering technologies. Most recently, Applied Biosensors, a U-spinout that makes an inexpensive, disposable single-use sensor that can monitor multiple substances without the risk of contamination, had its technology accelerated and validated by CEI.


Commercialization at universities will require an integrative approach to succeed in the future. TVC has been fortunate to benefit from a campus where such an approach happened organically. With the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, EFS, CMI, and CEI each working to promote innovation and commercialization in their own respective niches, they have helped to create a commercialization enterprise at the U that simply could not have been established by TVC alone. With the continued growth of each of these programs, commercialization at the U will almost certainly be enriched even more.

Return to Report Home Next Article: Catching Artery Stent Failures Before They Happen