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EquityNet Helps Develop Program for U.S. Army

The following article is entitled “TATRC’s Technology Transfer/Commercialization Program could be a model for speeding viable medical innovations to the warfighter”.

The article describes how EquityNet helped develop an innovative technology transfer and commercialization program for the U.S. Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC).

The article and was originally published on Oct 6, 2012 in the US Army AL&T Magazine. The article was written by Ronald Marchessault Jr., Dr. Charles M. Peterson, and COL Karl E. Friedl.

The goal of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the U.S. is to translate research into new products to advance the care of the Nation’s it must encourage that next breakthrough to enhance military health, while making effective use of the federal funds that it stewards.

To determine what it should fund, TATRC must decide whether a new technology solves an important problem and who would purchase it. While all TATRC project proposals are expected to provide detail on commercial potential, the reality is that many researchers do not have the knowledge or resources to assess this effectively and develop a commercialization strategy on their own.

To date, DOD has had no formal program to guide and assist them. For this reason, TATRC developed a comprehensive commercialization program for the more than 1,800 research projects it manages at universities, government laboratories, and high-tech start-up companies. It was an ambitious undertaking.

A BLANK SLATE A funded research project is only half the journey in providing a solution for Soldiers or bringing the lessons learned from war to the benefit of society. TATRC set out to develop a holistic Technology Transfer/Commercialization Program (T2/C) that would help achieve three primary objectives:

• Assess and guide the commercial potential tial of new discoveries and technologies. • Connect federally funded researchers with investors. • Evaluate and promote the economic impact of the precious research dollars that the center manages for the military.

It faced a blank slate in all three areas.

In 2009, TATRC started a formal program leveraging federal investment with private-sector capital to commercialize federal medical research and development (R&D) technologies. It examined similar efforts at the National Institutes of Health and began networking exhaustively to reach out to groups with the right ideas and right capabilities to support these objectives. TATRC chose only not-for-profit partners so as to minimize any conflicts of interest or risk in sharing proprietary information. It also emphasized quantifiable measures of outcome that will allow tracking and continuous improvement of the program.

The hope is that TATRC’s pilot program will become a blueprint for others in DOD. This strategy of “convergence management” parallels the innovative approach to fostering “convergence science” as developed by TATRC and described in “Promoting Innovation and Convergence in Military Medicine: Technology-Inspired Problem Solving” (IEEE Circuits and Systems Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 3).

PROJECT ASSESSMENT T2/C sought out several strategic partners and resources to provide the business expertise that must marry with science to create a marketable product. Fifteen TATRC small business partners that demonstrated technologies with strong commercial potential were selected in 2011 for market overview analyses by FirstLink, a DOD technology transfer partner. The information has helped the inventors identify their competitors and hurdles to market. Approximately half of the projects were Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II, Phase II Enhancement, and Commercial Pilot Program award recipients.

Leveraging a memorandum of agreement between USAMRMC and the Johns Hopkins University for R&D, TATRC worked out a collaboration in which Hopkins’ Carey Business School would provide commercialization consulting services to select TATRC partners as part of the school’s curriculum.

Student teams from the Global Master of Business Administration program presented commercialization plans for eight TATRC projects in 2011. The students gained vital experience in applying business theory, while the researchers gained free intellectual property research and indepth marketing analyses that otherwise could have cost them thousands of dollars. Students in this year’s Discovery to Market class are working with a second group of TATRC-funded investigators.

For online commercialization assessment tools, TATRC explored several programs and introduced several of its partners to EquityNet, a proven, metric-based program for determining commercial viability. EquityNet offers patented business plan software along with expert business support and research services. Ten companies are now participating in the program, which includes a business plan analysis, assistance in refining the plan, a market analysis, a competitive analysis, and an intellectual property survey. Certain companies have developed their business plans and are now accessing angel investors listed with EquityNet.

In light of competing technology concepts and proposed solutions for funding certain R&D projects, TATRC is trying to develop a systematic method with appropriate metrics to support the early-stage, quantitative evaluation of the relative merit of proposed concepts and feature sets for given technology areas. The framework will be demonstrated on a specific technology area, video laryngoscopy, with the goal of creating a tool that TATRC can apply to other areas in its portfolio.

EDUCATING RESEARCHERS The best way to help translate research into a commercial product is to consider the market potential from the outset. A key challenge has been to train small businesses to take this perspective. TATRC has developed several educational programs to encourage investigators as well as reviewers to incorporate business analyses throughout their project timetables.

TATRC has partnered with the Larta Institute, a not-for-profit firm in Los Angeles that has assisted several federal agencies with commercialization efforts. Larta helped design a pilot program to assess TATRC projects and to help a subset of companies advance their commercialization strategies.

The program takes a two-step approach. In Phase I in 2011, 25 candidate companies were selected to receive a Landscape Analysis Briefing. Each then earned a commercialization readiness level (CRL) score, which TATRC uses as an objective metric to convey the commercial maturity of a particular project and company management team.

In Phase II, 10 companies from the pool of candidates with high CRL scores were chosen to participate in a Commercialization Assistance Program. These TATRC projects were matched with external industry experts, who evaluated the projects’ commercialization potential, served as mentors, and developed strategies for future private-sector investment. These companies are completing their mentorship closeout process via webinar and are demonstrating their markedly improved preparedness to network with private equity firms. These companies will now be tracked and assisted by Larta for 12 months.

This year, 50 companies, primarily SBIR Phase II recipients, were invited to participate in the Landscape Analysis; 20 companies have been selected based on their CRL scores to participate in the Commercialization Assistance Program. To bring inventors and investors together in a risk-free environment, TATRC organized a two-day symposium with the University of Nebraska Medical Center in May 2011. The Midwest Medical Technology Exchange enabled TATRC researches in the Midwest to network with regional investors and discuss critical elements of technology commercialization.

In this purely educational exchange, inventors were the audience as investors presented information pertaining to commercialization. Presenters included representatives from the venture capital and angel investor community, the legal profession (patent and corporate law), and state economic development agencies.

The event generated ideas that will help TATRC prioritize future projects based on their commercial potential. The hope is to offer similar symposia in the future in multiple regional hubs to assure nationwide participation in developing the best medical products for Soldiers and their families.

To bring market analysis capabilities to all of TATRC’s small business partners, T2/C is working with the Proof of Concept Institute Inc. and the Jacob Tyler Creative Group to develop a microsite with customized content focused on commercialization strategies. This online “toolbox” will feature free project management evaluation tools as well as educational resources for both researchers and reviewers.

The Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) is an annual open solicitation for submission of pre-proposals from members of academia and industry seeking TATRC’s collaboration and DOD funding. During the pre-proposal stage of the BAA application process, the idea is that investigators would be directed to commercially oriented questions. Their responses would be made available to TATRC personnel to assess the proposed projects’ current stage, as well as its military and nonmilitary commercialization potential.

Grant recipients would then have access to an online TATRC Commercialization Training Guide. This will educate investigators in the commercialization process and will detail activities that the principal investigator should undertake at various project milestones, to increase the likelihood that funded projects could transfer successfully to the private sector.

CONNECTING PROJECTS WITH INVESTMENTS For those technologies ready for “prime time,” networking is another essential aspect of T2/C. TATRC has teamed with the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds (NASVF), based in Philadelphia, PA, to connect promising research with private investment.

First, the NASVF developed a marketing campaign to aid in TATRC’s commercialization goals. Through careful messaging and positioning in the health care business, TATRC-funded companies with commercially viable technologies are being promoted to investors.

TATRC has also co-sponsored NASVF meetings in Baltimore, MD, and Arlington, TX, in which a total of six small business partners seeking private-sector capital have pitched their companies to angel investors and the venture capital community. Panels of industry, law, and investment experts engaged in question- and-answer sessions. Four similar Technology Showcase opportunities are being provided to 10 TATRC companies in 2012, in Philadelphia, PA; Los Angeles, CA, Boston, MA; and Cleveland, OH. They are open to Army AL&T Magazine readers.

ECONOMIC IMPACT BENCHMARKS With accountability as the watchword, TATRC is integrating a final pillar into the T2/C. As a first step, a tracking program was established to document TATRC commercialization successes. Results through FY11 showed that of approximately 1,800 projects funded through TATRC since 2000, 2.3 percent have resulted in a commercial product, generating $209 million in sales from a total federal investment of $74 million. TATRC chose Econsult Corp., a Philadelphia firm with extensive experience in economic impact modeling, to conduct an economic impact analysis of 10 companies. Econsult is gathering validated data on TATRC-funded medical R&D expenditures, including job creation and retention, salaries, follow-on funding, published patents, state and federal tax revenue, and sales revenue.

The first report is expected to be complete this fall. Econsult is actively gathering data from and compiling metrics on four companies.

CONCLUSION For TATRC, it’s not enough to have good science alone. Projects must meet a clinical need and often have commercial viability. The Technology Transfer/ Commercialization Program is making this more likely. For more information, contact Ron Marchessault at ronald.marchessault@tatrc.org.

RONALD MARCHESSAULT JR. is Director of Technology Transfer/ Commercialization for TATRC, Fort Detrick, MD. He holds a B.A. in biology from the Rhode Island and an M.B.A. from Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School. Marchessault is a recipient of the U.S. Small Business Administration 2012 Tibbetts Award – Individual.

DR. CHARLES M. PETERSON is Chief Scientist at TATRC. He holds a B.A. in biology from Carleton College, an M.D. from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons with a specialization in internal medicine, and an M.B.A. from the University of California with a concentration in medical information technology.

COL KARL E. FRIEDL is Director of TATRC. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in zoology from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and a Ph.D. in biology from UCSB’s Institute of Environmental Stress.

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To view to this article in the Army AL&T Magazine, visit page 84-87, here.

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