|Access to the communication capabilities
of the AIME facility, including high speed Internet,
wireless capabilities and videoconferencing are among
the benefits start-up companies have in partnering with
UA's Bama Technology Incubator. (Rickey Yanaura)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Match one part University of Alabama
faculty discovery with one part investor displaying an
entrepreneurial spirit. Mix in a sound business plan, expert
legal advice and top-notch communication facilities, alongside
assistance with plan implementation. Ensure all these
ingredients blend within a favorable environment.
The results from such a recipe? A successful startup company
employing area residents and drawing from University of Alabama
That’s part of the planned formula behind the launching of
UA’s Bama Technology Incubator. Housed within UA’s Alabama
Institute for Manufacturing Excellence, the Bama Technology
Incubator began operation about one year ago.
“We try to provide a lot of services that would be cost
prohibitive to a startup company,” said Dr. Daniel Daly,
director of both technology transfer at UA and the University’s
Alabama Institute for Manufacturing Excellence. “Just as the
name incubator implies, it’s a protective shield that enables
the company to start out with some insulation.”
Dr. Keith McDowell, vice-president of research at UA, said he
envisions a time when obtaining patents on faculty discoveries
and partnering with venture capitalists to launch startup
companies becomes more routine for campus researchers.
“We want The University of Alabama to learn how to do this as
a regular course of business,” McDowell said.
Research was once conducted as part of the “light-bulb
generation” mindset, and patentable discoveries focused on
complete inventions developed by researchers, said McDowell.
That’s no longer the case. “This is the knowledge generation,”
McDowell said. “The creation of new knowledge is an intellectual
One example of an agreement between UA and a private company,
centering around new knowledge developed at the University, can
be found at Cr3 Inc.
Discoveries led by Dr. John Vincent, professor of chemistry
at UA, led to multiple patents related to chromium’s potential
use in treatment of diabetes and other diseases. The patents
have been licensed to the Birmingham-based company, led by CEO
Michael Alder. The company is pursuing use of the technology in
a vitamin supplement.
The Incubator is designed to promote economic growth by
boosting the number of tech companies in Alabama, administering
programs to assist those companies, and facilitating access to
technologies developed in UA’s laboratories, according to the
Faculty members and researchers with patentable and
marketable techniques and inventions are eligible to work with
the Incubator, regardless of their areas of expertise, Daly
said. “It doesn’t have to be tied to a technology that would
typically be housed in the AIME,” Daly said.
Leaders of the Incubator include Daly, Dr. Marianne Woods,
associate vice president for research at UA, and Michael
Spearing, attorney in UA’s Office of Counsel.
Ideas considered for inclusion within the Incubator are first
reviewed by a panel to gauge the marketability of the discovery,
Daly said. If the discovery is deemed to have potential to lead
to a reasonable chance of business success and if the researcher
then agrees to join, the Incubator’s representatives will
attempt to sell the intellectual property to a potential
investor. Fifty percent of revenue streams generated by the
company are returned to the researchers whose discoveries led to
the launching of the company.
UA researchers who agree to partner with the Incubator serve
as scientific advisers to the company, but they do not serve as
the company’s business managers, Daly said. “We do not want
these highly productive faculty members to become business
managers; we want them to remain productive faculty members.”
In addition to the intellectual property and access to the
brain power behind it, companies can benefit from the
partnership through the business model UA can develop for them,
the potential of leasing lab space to launch a pilot production
facility, and the state of the art communication capabilities of
the AIME facility, including high speed Internet and wireless
capabilities and videoconferencing.
Having the option of hiring UA’s students, including those
who may have worked closely with the researcher whose idea is
being marketed, is another huge selling point, Daly said, as is
the opportunity for the additional entrepreneurial training UA
can offer a startup.
After three years in startup mode, the company, ideally would
leave the protection of UA and become self-supporting at an
off-campus location but one that is, ideally, not too far away,
“We will strongly encourage the economic opportunities of
this area,” Daly said.
Ventures such as those the Incubator seeks can be beneficial
to UA as it can allow the University to recoup some of the costs
it invests in seeking patents and business partners. Perhaps
more importantly, Daly said, a successful Incubator program
enhances the school’s stature in the eyes of productive faculty
and potential faculty.