Listening to Our Community

By Allison A. Ferro, Technology Portfolio Manager and Mary MacCarthy, Venture Program Manager

Technology commercialization refers to the process by which university innovations are licensed to companies to further develop and bring products and services to market that benefit society. The UMN Technology Commercialization office is responsible, under Regents Policy, for supporting this process. Our office covers all five campuses and we are proud to serve all innovators, whether they are experienced at commercialization-related activities or new to the process.

In a typical year, our office receives between 380 to 400 disclosures describing what might be protectable or commercializable intellectual property. Currently, our data suggests there is a large opportunity for more women and people of color to participate in the University’s commercialization process: disclosing their ideas, having those ideas evaluated for potential development, being listed on patents, getting involved in or working with startups, developing or expanding networks with others that wish to turn their ideas into something that will benefit society, and even receiving licensing income should the ideas be transferred and developed into a product or service by industry.

This opportunity for greater involvement by underrepresented groups is not unique to the University of Minnesota and directly impacts society. The Institute of Women’s Policy reports a disparity in female inventors being named on US patents. A recent study published in Science found that researchers in the biomedical field tend to develop inventions focused on their gender, so it raises the question of whether more participation by women in this process could lead to more technologies that would specifically benefit women.

Increasing outreach and support for all innovators, and especially women and people of color, is an important goal in our office. To accomplish this, eighteen months ago the office established a cross-departmental Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) working group, led by Anne Hall and Mary MacCarthy, which gathers and analyzes invention disclosures and patenting data from across the University, raises awareness of opportunities for engagement, develops programs, and collaborates with other departments in advancing our mission. An example of a recent success is that we’re making progress on diversifying our Business Advisory Group, a group of volunteers which help us commercialize technologies. This past year, we were able to increase the membership of the group to 356 members with 25 percent more women and 60 percent more people of color.

We are excited about our progress to date, but we recognize that there is much more work to do, and we look forward to engaging many more UMN faculty and staff in technology commercialization in the months and years to come.

Learn more about our commitment to Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. For more information on working with the Technology Commercialization office, please contact Allison Ferro ( or Mary MacCarthy (