But UNC’s innovation has paid off, as the University brought in a record $7.9 million from technology licenses — a 160 percent increase in revenues since 2009.
The increase in revenues from licensing technologies was set in motion years ago, when the University funneled money into new technology businesses.
In 2013, the University cashed in on two biotechnology companies it helped start up: Epizyme Inc. and Sarepta Therapeutics Inc., which created a huge boost in revenue for the school, said Andy Johns, associate vice chancellor for research.
“The path was paved years ago,” Johns said. “It’s a one-time shot in the arm, if you will.”
UNC’s goal is to move research from the lab to the market. Throughout the year, the Office of Technology Development partnered with UNC’s Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and Carolina KickStart to identify and market UNC technology with commercial potential.
“While licensing a technology to an established company is the typical route, some are better suited to be commercialized through a startup company,” said John Sheridan, assistant director of Carolina KickStart.
The companies can take years to bring the technology to market. When UNC sells the company, the University receives one lump sum of money.
Such windfalls are difficult to anticipate, said Jackie Quay, interim director of technology development.
“We consider it a success when a technology is developed into a commercial product,” Quay said.
Because money is unpredictable, licenses are better measures of success than money, Johns said. In 2013, UNC signed off on 63 different technology license agreements.
“UNC has done a lot of benchmarking,” Johns said. “We are always trying to improve our standing.”
The University has granted 857 technology licenses and 791 patents since 1997, according to a press release from the University. In addition, UNC has received $48.3 million in licensing revenue, brought in $35.7 million in patent reimbursements and created 91 technology start-ups.
Earlier this year, UNC began a pilot program that awards money to researchers to further test how well their technology can translate into real products on the market. The University also halted overhead charges for two federal grants, in hopes of attracting more research.
“I think that the doubling in revenue would not have been possible without the Office of Technology Development’s expertise,” Sheridan said. “They’ve assembled a really strong team that (has) done a great job marketing and licensing UNC technologies.”
The University will channel the revenue back into research, along with federal and industry-sponsored funding.