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Overheard: Houston experts discuss how to navigate tech transfer

Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

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Building Houston

 
 

Both the city and state appear on a new report on best places for coworking. Photo via Getty Images

Attention all Houston-based remote workers, small business owners, and startups — if you're looking for flexible office space, you're in the right place.

Both the city and state have landed on CoworkingCafe's list of the best places for coworking in the country. With 652 reported coworking spots, Texas ranks as the No. 2 state — behind California 1,188 coworking spots and ahead of Florida's 629 and New York's 589 offices.

Houston ranks as eighth best metro for coworking with 208 coworking facilities. The Dallas-Fort Worth area ranked a few spots ahead of the Bayou City, coming in at No. 5 with 261 coworking spots. Austin also makes the top 2 with a reported 97 coworking spots, earning the No. 19 spot.

Data via coworkingcafe.com

According to the report, the area looked into included 15 cities within the Houston metro. The majority of the coworking properties —154 of the 208 identified — are located in Houston proper. Sugar Land has over 10 coworking spots, with the rest of the properties scattered across the greater Houston area in Katy, Spring, The Woodlands, etc.

Houston has followed the overall trend of increased remote workers, though not to the extreme other cities and states are seeing, according to the study. Per a Statista report, the number of people working in coworking spaces today has more than tripled since 2015. Houston's remote workers increased to 16 percent in 2021 from 4 percent in 2019.

"Even though Houston is already an established working hub with great job opportunities, it is also one of the cities with the lowest change in the share of remote workers," the report reads. "The change, however, still accounts for a notable outcome."

Earlier this year, a Seattle-based human resources company named Karat conducted their own report on the most attractive metros for remote workers within tech. In that 2022 study, Houston ranked No. 6 just ahead of No. 7 Austin. Last year, Houston ranked as No. 2 and Dallas at No. 9, but that North Texas metro fell off the top 10 for 2021. Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list year over year.

"Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs," writes Patrick Wu, data analyst at Karat, in a blog post. "Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve."

The full ranking of CoworkingCafe's report is below.

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