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New Leave Program Puts Faculty on Entrepreneurial Path

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The University of Minnesota’s new Entrepreneurial Leave Program, approved earlier this year, went into effect July 1 and is awaiting applicants.

The program is unlike any other offered by similar institutions around the country. The Board of Regents established the new policy to encourage university faculty to temporarily assist companies that are commercializing faculty-developed products or processes.

“We don’t know of another institution with a program like this,” says Russell Straate, Associate Director of the University of Minnesota Office for Technology Commercialization Venture Center. “We are setting the stage to help faculty members become more entrepreneurial. These inventors need to have a role in the early development of their research into products and services. The new leave program helps them move out of the university and into the company temporarily.”

Tenured and tenure-track faculty may apply for an entrepreneurial leave of twelve months, with an optional six-month extension. The leave typically will involve the development of university intellectual property, though leaves that relate to the public good may also be considered. The faculty member checks in monthly with the department head and Office for Technology Commercialization during the leave.

A unique feature is that the program allows faculty to keep their benefits while on leave. This helps overcome a barrier for faculty who otherwise could not be involved in translating research. “In the case of a startup company situation, most can pay a salary or commit equity, but they often they lack benefits. This leave program will make it easier for faculty to be involved in bringing their ideas to market,” says Straate.

Another benefit is that the faculty can aid the company without concerns over conflict of interest such as using a university lab for personal financial gain.

“It’s increasingly important for the university to aid in the successful translation and commercialization of faculty research. The leave program increases faculty knowledge and expertise, which benefits their students and future research. It also increases the university’s engagement with the general public and private industry,” explains Straate.

The leave program is so far untested. Straate says that a number of faculty have made inquiries, but that none have applied for a leave. “We expect two to three of these a year.”

The Entrepreneurial Leave Program is one of many programs aimed at helping faculty become more entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurism is growing at the U of M, which recently announced a record 14 startups launched in fiscal year 2013.

Straate’s office helps move technology developments with commercial potential out of the U labs and into the market, with goals of benefiting the public, making money for the university and for the inventor, and improving research and teaching. For example, recently the office helped U professor Jian-Ping Wang, Ph.D., College of Science and Engineering, work with a startup to commercialize a process that produces magnetic nanoparticles that attach to biomarkers in blood, saliva and urine to diagnose physical conditions. Straate’s office located a management team to help get the startup underway.

Post by Vincent Hyman, a freelance writer based in St. Paul, Minn.

Originally published on Business @ the U of M.

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