From the Director: Advise to Faculty Considering a Start-up

What is the biggest challenge start-ups face today?

The biggest challenge our new startups face is finding an entrepreneur with time and business expertise. There are so many resources available to entrepreneurs today that weren’t here just a few years ago, but it still takes time to explore them, have a conversation, identify an opportunity and pursue it. We often talk about how the lack of business experience handicaps a well-intentioned faculty entrepreneur, but the reality is that their availability is just as restrictive when they have full-time commitments to teach, research and/or see patients. On the other hand, attracting an external entrepreneur to a nascent startup is just as difficult, so we often have to rely on a faculty entrepreneur for some period of time.

What are some main goals researchers have when contemplating forming a start-up?

Todd Sherer, Exec Director Photograph

Todd Sherer, Exec Director

A common goal is simply attaining additional funding to move their technology forward. Researchers, wanting to become entrepreneurs, talk to a lot of people about their technology and they often hear, “It’s an interesting idea, but have you created or tested a prototype yet?” Quite often researchers have to form a company just to find translational funding to do this kind of work.   Thankfully, more translational funding is becoming available that doesn’t require the formation of a company.

What advice would you give to someone beginning a start-up?

One of the key mistakes researchers typically make is not recognizing the importance of getting industry and business expertise in the company as soon as possible. They assume it’s the science that will drive the business opportunity, which they excel at, but much of the time it’s not the science, it’s identifying the barriers that must be crossed in transitioning science to medicine to new products. To get this kind of talent, you may have to willing to share equity and this is what trips up many new companies.

How does Emory OTT support and aid faculty start-ups?

OTT spends a lot of time helping faculty with their start-up companies. We put on an entrepreneurial training class called the Kauffman FastTrack® Course. We run a dating service out of the office where we introduce them to industry and business experts. We invest in their intellectual property and manage a proof-of-concept fund. We help them identify translational funding whether it’s via SBIR/STTR, the Coulter Translational Fund, or the Georgia Research Alliance Ventures Program. We try to help as much as possible because this training, exposure to experts, and funding are critical in transforming an idea to a startup opportunity.

What do you think are some of the key reasons that faculty start-ups stall?

First, not talking to as many industry and business people as they can early in development in order to identify what the commercial risks are for their technology. Second, not knowing or understanding what resources are available. All of that requires going out and talking to people and finding out what you don’t know and what’s available. Again the technology transfer office can help you do that. We’re a partner in that process, faculty shouldn’t have to figure it all out on their own. You can come to the tech transfer office for help.