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Washington State University
CAS Connect February 2016

Faculty mentors to advance WSU commercialization, impact

Supporting the transformational, interdisciplinary themes of WSU’s new Grand Challenges, the University recently launched the Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors (EFA) program, a peer-mentoring initiative to help faculty commercialize their research.

EFA aims to build a stronger entrepreneurial infrastructure at WSU by creating a resource of faculty mentors who are both outstanding academic scholars and successful in commercializing University research. The program will also engage innovative student entrepreneurs with faculty mentors, alumni, and business leaders to support regional economic development.

“We want to create a multi-campus culture of innovation and impact that helps move research from the campus to the community to change and improve people’s lives,” said Chris Keane, vice president for WSU research.

In addition to mentoring and networking, EFA members will identify gaps in the support structure for faculty entrepreneurship and will recommend improvements.

Modeled after a program that began at the University of Utah in 2007 and now includes 145 faculty from all of UU’s 14 schools and colleges, EFA is specifically tailored to the WSU landscape.

John W Wright
John Wright
Cliff Berkman
Cliff Berkman

Glenn Prestwich, the chancellor’s distinguished visiting professor at WSU Spokane, serves as interim leader of EFA. He created UU’s program and is experienced in the commercialization of academic research.

“We anticipate the EFA program will evolve to embrace the full range of scholarly excellence at WSU, from science and engineering to the creative arts and social sciences,” Keane said. “The University is 100 percent behind advancing entrepreneurial activities as a key element in supporting creative activities and achieving stronger research partnerships with industry.”

Professors Cliff Berkman from chemistry and John Wright from psychology are among WSU’s first cohort of EFA faculty mentors.

Cancer Targeted TechnologyBerkman is chief scientific officer, cofounder, and director of Cancer Targeted Technology, a Seattle-based biotech company specializing in the early detection of disease and in treatment monitoring. With his CTT colleagues, Berkman is working to design and patent enzyme inhibitors with unique properties for advancing capabilities in imaging and drug delivery. The company’s first development candidate targets prostate cancer, with both diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

Wright, a Regents professor who studies Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and neurochemistry related to memory, is part of the research team behind M3Biotechnology, a therapeutics company focused on developing novel pharmaceuticals to combat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and age-related dementia.

m3 biotechonology incAccording to the company’s website, “M3’s initial development work has been supported by grants from both the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, financial support stemming from their understanding that M3’s technology represents a novel paradigm in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases…. This support shows the understanding that M3’s technology could, for the first time in a non-invasive way…stop and possibly reverse the clinical course of these diseases.

“In addition to the life-altering potential of this drug, success would quickly lead to domination in a multi-billion dollar market.”

The EFA program is spearheaded by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Research and supported by Health Sciences, WSU Spokane, and the colleges of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences; Business; Engineering and Architecture; and Veterinary Medicine.

“The range of support the EFA program has received is clear recognition of the value our academic institution places on exploring new interdisciplinary territory and going further with how faculty translate their work to the public,” said Daryll DeWald, CAS dean.

Brian Kraft
Brian Kraft

Translating research into products and services that benefit the public is a complex and nuanced activity, said Brian Kraft, CAS director of business development.

“The EFA mentors will encourage peer-to-peer networking and mentoring, connect faculty innovators and entrepreneurs, and advance multidisciplinary and intercampus dialogue while supporting creativity, innovation, and discovery across the University,” Kraft said.

“Academics are intrinsically entrepreneurial—whether in the creative arts, the humanities, or STEM,” DeWald said. “They run groups, they forge new ground, they raise funds, and they bring new products to the world.”

Other inaugural EFA members who will act as peer advisors include:

  • Clint Cole, School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Amit Dhingra, Department of Horticulture
  • Joe Harding, Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience
  • Marie Mayes, Department of Management, Information Systems & Entrepreneurship
  • Katrina Mealey, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
  • Grant Norton, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Mark VanDam, Department of Speech & Hearing Sciences.

Commercialization Corner: What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind, such as ideas, innovations, inventions, music, and literature. Getting your intellectual property protected through patents, copyrights, or trademarks is an important step toward marketing your innovation or launching a company based on it. The WSU Office of Commercialization works with University researchers on this process.