Cockrell School Engaged from Concept to Commercialization

UT engineering has a strong culture to take research ideas from the lab to new ventures. To strengthen this culture even more, UT is revamping its commercialization processes.

Technicians at Molecular Imprints

Technicians at Molecular Imprints test a new imprint lithography system. Light in the clean room is yellow due to filters that remove ultraviolet (UV) rays. The fluids that are cured to form microelectronic patterns are sensitive to UV radiation. Molecular Imprints is just one example of a technology company start-up that began at UT Austin. Molecular Imprints specializes in nanoimprint technology.

Almost every magazine, newspaper and blog has talked about the importance of technology innovation for growing the nation’s economy, strengthening global competitiveness and as a foundation for national security.  Gary Locke, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, recently said, “America has a broken innovation ecosystem that does not efficiently create the right incentives or allocate enough resources to generate new ideas; develop those ideas with focused research; and turn them into businesses that can create good jobs.”

As a top ranked engineering program, the Cockrell School has a key role in the innovation ecosystem.  The great Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter was one of the first to examine innovation processes in the economy, and he identified entrepreneurs as the individuals who drive technological innovation.  Schumpeter’s ideas can be seen in practice at UT today.  The engineering research by faculty and students is the bedrock of discovery and application that drives transformative technology.  Engineering students are educated to add value, whether it is in a large company, a start-up or in providing professional services.  Finally, UT and the Cockrell School are making great strides in advancing the mission to distribute the knowledge created by faculty and students through entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.

UT engineering has a strong culture to take research ideas from the lab to new ventures.  Recent startups launched by UT faculty include Molecular Imprints founded by faculty innovators Grant Willson and S.V. Sreenivasan, and ActaCell, founded by Ram Manthiram.

To strengthen this culture even more, UT is revamping its commercialization processes with exciting changes that will support faculty in translating research into products.  In the Cockrell School, the Engineering Advisory Board has provided outstanding leadership with new mechanisms for bridging the “valley of death” in commercializing the ideas of UT innovators.  Future UT Engineer articles will highlight these new approaches as they are rolled out in fall 2010.

The Cockrell School of Engineering has supported entrepreneurship for more than 25 years through the Chair of Free Enterprise, established by the Engineering Advisory Board and generous donors.  Dr. Steven Nichols, director of the chair’s programs, has led many educational programs and the widely known Idea-2-Product competition. The Cockrell School recently partnered with the McCombs School of Business to launch Texas Venture Labs (TVL) in March.  TVL has a disciplined approach to provide classes, services and resources to student entrepreneurs. It is open first to graduate students from the business and engineering schools, followed by undergraduate students.

“UT has many great entrepreneurial resources across campus, not the least being the McCombs School of Business.  Texas Venture Labs has been launched to help bring MBA students together with engineering students and students in other areas, such as law, pharmacy and science, to help jump-start companies from the earliest stages, ” says Ted Rappaport, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the William and Bettye Nowlin Chair.  Rappaport works with students interested in starting companies, and helped launch TVL, an initiative led by Rob Adams of the McCombs School.

Faculty commitment to entrepreneurial education and preparing students to lead in a dynamic economy continues to grow.  In spring 2010, Dr. Sriram Vishwanath, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, offered the course “From Idea to Intellectual Property: The Road to Commercializing Technology” for the first time, which brought together teams of engineering students, business students and law students to create new products.  Each team developed a technology contributed by the engineer, formed a business plan and developed a patent protection strategy.

From education to research to technology commercialization, the Cockrell School faculty and students are translating discoveries to innovation, and they are learning by practicing. This is the bedrock of the innovation economy and a key to success for students. It is the University of Texas’ contribution to “creative destruction,” the watchword of Joseph Schumpeter.