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University of Houston: What should a faculty inventor’s role be in their startup?

Should you lead the company that's taking your technology to commercialization? Maybe. But maybe not. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Are you a faculty member at a university? Are you a researcher with an invention that you want to monetize? Do you want to start your own startup company? If you answered yes to these questions, another question you need to consider is, should you leave your research position at the university to lead your company or get out of the way entirely?

The answer to that question will be different for everyone. Some faculty inventors want to leave and launch a company based on their research. In most cases, faculty members want to keep their university roles. What is the right decision for you?

Douglas Hockard, the assistant vice president of Tech Launch Arizona at The University of Arizona, said, in a Tech Launch blog post, to consider your passion, time and expertise.

Do you have the passion?

Passion is required for anyone to enjoy their chosen career paths. Without passion, you are not going to want to dedicate your time or seek the expertise to become the best.

“Faculty researchers chose their careers intentionally, dedicating years of study and research to arrive where they are today. Most faculty are not interested in abandoning that career path,” Hockard said.

Leading a startup requires the same dedication that it took to get where you are in your university role.

Do you have the time?

A startup is not a part-time job. “While faculty researchers are rarely interested in leaving their career in the university, investors want a committed, and focused, leadership team. More than anything, the startup needs someone to focus full-time… to eschew any other pursuits and devote themselves fully to the success of the startup,” Hockard said.

Do you have the expertise?

Hockard mentions in his blog that there are roles that exist in startups for university faculty. The faculty inventor is the technology expert, and their knowledge will help in the commercialization of their technology. Sometimes there are better ways to support the startup while remaining in your university position.

“A scientific role in the company allows them to help guide the company technology direction while allowing someone else to focus on company formation, strategic planning, business development, and importantly, raising capital. What is most important is aligning the myriad needs of the startup with the knowledge, skills, and singular focus best suited to fulfill those needs,” Hockard said.

What's the big idea?

If you don’t have the passion, the time, or the expertise to run a startup or you just simply want to keep your university, maybe someone else should lead your startup.

“Without a doubt, identifying leadership can be daunting. While the desire might be to zero in on a ‘superstar,’ a startup needs someone that can commit the time and the effort and knows ‘what to do next.’ How can startups find that person?” Hockard said.

Your university’s technology transfer office can provide support and can be a good place for you to start. “TTOs provide myriad resources to help inventors move innovations ahead, including technology and market analysis, intellectual property protection, marketing, and more. Many full-service TTOs also have dedicated personnel to help launch startups based on university technologies.” Of course, it’s up to you who should join the company— especially to lead it— but having the support of “experienced potential partners” will help you make the right decision.

Startups need a lot of resources to become successful. Bringing in someone to help, if you don’t have the passion, time or expertise, could be very beneficial. If you do have all three of those things and you want to leave your university role, then go be the lead in your startup.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Cory Thaxton is the communications coordinator for The Division of Research.

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Houston-based Melax Tech has developed multiple Natural language processing tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations. Photo via MelaxTech.com

Melax Tech Partners, a leader in natural language technology processing, announced a new partnership with the University of California at Irvine that will help researchers derive insights from the UCI Health Data Science Platform’s electronic health records system and improve patient care.

Melax will implement its signature text annotation tool LANN to pull information from clinical notes, and its CLAMP product to develop natural language processing customizations through the use of AI, according to a statement from the company.

“There has been a strong desire among UCI researchers to have the capability to analyze free-text clinical narrative data using cutting-edge NLP technologies," Kai Zheng, chief research information officer at UCI Health Affairs, says in a statement. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Melax Tech to deploy their AI-driven annotation and analytics tools to help our researchers advance their research agenda by leveraging the vast amount of free-text data that our health system has accumulated in the past two decades.”

Natural language processing, or NLP, allows organizations and healthcare groups to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data at a rapid rate through the use of machine learning and AI. Houston-based Melax Tech, founded in 2017, has developed multiple NLP tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations, according to its website.

In addition to the recent partnership with UC Irvine, Melax has also recently partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Western Pennsylvania on similar clinical projects.

Melax has also used its platforms to pull vital information from datasets relating to COVID-19, in both medical and social settings.

In March 2022, it was awarded a Phase 1 NIH Award, valued at $300,000, to develop informatics tools based on COVID-19 datasets with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. The tool aims to help researchers better understand vast amounts of virus-related data and connect findings with other similar results.

In August, Melax also received another $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop NLP-based algorithms that will "model, extract and synthesize vaccine misinformation from multiple popular social media sources," according to a statement. Melax will also develop a visualization that presents its findings on the misinformation into a compressible format.

"This is a very real topic affecting culture at present," Andre Pontin, CEO at Melax Tech, says in a statement. "And shows that we as a collective business and group of experts continue to be on the cutting-edge of science in the NLP and AI domain."

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