Commercialization of university research is a key driver of U.S. economic growth and long-term competitiveness, according to a recently issued report by nonpartisan think tank The Milken Institute.

The report ranked the University of Pittsburgh at #24 among the best universities for technology transfer, up from #35 when it last issued the report in 2006.

“It is gratifying to be recognized, along with our neighbor and frequent collaborator Carnegie Mellon, among the nation’s best universities for tech transfer. With the additional resources and programming that we have been able to provide to Pitt faculty, student, and staff innovators over the past two years, we look forward to delivering even stronger results moving forward,” said Marc Malandro, Founding Director of the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute.

The Milken rankings are based on a weighted average of four data points as self-reported by universities to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) collected between 2012 and 2015:

  • patents issued
  • licenses issued
  • licensing income
  • startups formed

Malandro noted that the four years covered by the Milken rankings only include two years subsequent to the establishment of the Pitt Innovation Institute in 2013, which marked the beginning of an increased emphasis and support at the University for strengthening its innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. It also did not include fiscal 2016, a year in which Pitt set records for patents issued (80) and startups based on Pitt-developed intellectual property (13).

Over the past two years, the Innovation Institute has initiated several new programs to support more effective technology transfer. The Pitt Ventures Gear Program provides education in the Lean Launchpad methodology of innovation commercialization that emphasizes rigorous customer discovery exercises guided by an experienced business mentor. As one of the original NSF I-Corps Site programs, the Gear program teams also receive an initial $3,000 in funding to begin commercialization exploration, with the potential for $50,000 in national I-Corps funding at the completion of the program. Seven Pitt teams have qualified for the national I-Corps program.

Pitt has also expanded funding available to early-stage innovations to move them closer to commercialization through the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds, which is providing $1 million over two years to assist with reducing technical and market risk associated with discoveries that have commercial potential.

The Innovation Institute has also expanded its roster of entrepreneurs in residence who help identify promising technologies in the Pitt intellectual property portfolio and assist the investigators in navigating the Institute’s resources and programming to de-risk their technologies and identify potential licensees, or assist in the development of a startup.

The report states that American research universities are the “main catalyst that fuels knowledge-based growth.”

It continued, “Universities are a source of competitive advantage; they create a skilled workforce and through R&D and tech-transfer help create new technologies and new industries.”

According to a survey released by AUTM in November 2016, of more than 200 academic institutions and hospitals, U.S. patent applications and licensing agreements both increased 15 percent in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. Additionally, 1,012 startups were formed from licensed technology, an increase of 11 percent. New and existing licensed products generated nearly $30 billion in sales.

The Milken report included several recommendations for increasing the impact of university technology transfer:

  • Maintain basic scientific research funding that has the potential to deliver long-term economic benefit due to the potential to deliver high reward and create entire new industries
  • Incentivize technology transfer through a new federal commercialization fund that rewards high performing universities
  • Increase technology transfer capacity through federal matching grants to revive startup rates in the U.S.; and
  • Increase technology transfer efficiency by adopting best practices

To view the full report, click here.