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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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Check out these conferences, pitch competitions, networking, and more all happening in September. Photo via Getty Images

From networking meetups to pitch competitions, September has a smorgasbord of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

Mark your calendars for November 8 for the annual Houston Innovation Awards, and nominate your company or another deserving business by September 19.

September 5 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Houston Innovation

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, will delve into the most recent developments within the Houston Innovation Community, shedding light on Houston Exponential's latest initiatives. She will also provide insights into upcoming events, including the highly-anticipated Tech Rodeo and the forthcoming Innovation Awards Gala. After all of that education and conversation, unwind with an authentic tequila tasting and network with tech industry peers.

The agenda:

5:50 pm - 6 pm: Sign-in/Registration

6 pm - 6:30 pm: Tequila tasting

6:30 pm - 7 pm: Tech talk

7 pm - 8 pm: Networking & Tequilas

This event is Tuesday, September 5, from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 7 — Venture Houston 2023

Venture Houston 2023 is a major event for entrepreneurs, venture investors and ecosystem builders to plug into what is happening in Houston. Come learn how you can decarbonize in a digital world, connect with Houston's best founders, corporate leaders and top tier investors, and develop meaningful relationships.

The agenda:

7 am - 8:45 am: Registration

8:45 am - 12:30 pm: General Programming

12:30 pm - 1:45 pm: Networking Lunch

2:00 pm - 4:15 pm: General Programming

4:15 pm - 6 pm: Networking Cocktail Reception

This event is Thursday, September 7, from 7 am to 6 pm at Stude Concert Hall. Click here to register.

September 8 — Inspire & Transform: Celebrating Women In Data

Hosted by the Houston Chapter of Women in Data and Solidatus, this event will feature influential women who have made significant contributions to the field of data from the City of Houston, Exxon, EY, Google, Houston Methodist and more. The event will discuss and debate "The Intersection of Data, AI and Sustainability" and "What Does Good Look Like" through insightful panel discussions, and networking opportunities. Price of admission is $10.

The agenda:

9 am - Check-in and Network

9:15 am - Welcome

9:20 am - Panel 1: The Intersection of Data, AI & Sustainability

10 am - Networking Break

10:10am - Panel 2: "What Does Good Look Like"

10:45am - Scholarships Awarded

11am - End of event + Networking Opportunities

This event is Friday, September 8, from 9 am to 11 am at 200 Park Place. Click here to register.

September 9 — Revolutionizing Your Work: Eight Innovative Ways Entrepreneurs Can Leverage ChatGPT & AI to Scale, Grow & Succeed

Discover how successful entrepreneurs are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT to drive their businesses forward. At this event, you'll gain valuable insights from industry experts who have leveraged AI and ChatGPT to grow, scale, and succeed. Learn how these technologies can enhance customer experiences, streamline operations, and drive innovation in your own entrepreneurial journey.

This event is Saturday, September 9, from 12:30 to 1:30pm at The R.O.C.K. - Broadway Campus. Click here to register.

September 13 — Small Business Exchange

The Small Business Exchange, powered by US SBA, is a lively and informative event designed to connect small business owners and entrepreneurs.

At the Small Business Exchange, you'll have the opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, share your experiences, and gain valuable insights from industry experts. Whether you're a seasoned business owner or just starting out, this event offers a unique chance to learn, grow, and collaborate.


This event is Wednesday, September 13, from 11 am to 2 pm at SBDC Office. Click here to register.

September 21 — 20th Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum

The Energy Tech Venture Forum, hosted by The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, will showcase energy tech innovations to shift towards a more sustainable, reliable and lower carbon future across interactive panels, inspiring keynotes and over 50 dynamic venture pitches, leaders.

At the 20th annual conference, discover more than 90 new technology ventures commercializing energy transition innovations and meet investors looking for disruptive energy technologies that can accelerate clean and renewable energy. Check to see if you are a Rice Alliance member or sponsor to confirm your free registration. Rice university faculty and staff can also attend for free. For non-Rice community members tickets are $245.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 7:30 am to 5:15 pm at Rice University. Click here to register.

September 21 — UH Energy Symposium: Plastics, Chemicals, Circularity: What’s Next?

Focusing on the multifaceted nature and enormity of the challenge, this discussion will focus on what circularity means for the future of production and consumption, meeting consumer demand, and creating and preserving utility across the value chain, while addressing emissions reduction and waste management through new technologies, standards, regulatory mechanisms like extended producer responsibility, and stakeholder engagement.

This event is Thursday, September 21, from 6 to 7:30 pm at the University of Houston. Click here to register.

September 23 — OPEN Houston 11th Annual Conference

Head over to the OPEN Houston 11th annual conference which will focus on the important players building Houston’s emerging technology and startup ecosystem. Hear from and connect with the founders, executives, investors, and other leaders that are building Houston’s innovation economy. Admission is $25-$50.

The agenda:

9:00 AM - 10.00 AM - Registration

10.00 AM - 10:30 AM - Mayor Sylvester Turner Welcoming

10:30 AM - 11:30 AM - Keynote by Andrew Yang

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM - Founder’s Panel

12:30 PM - 1:30 PM - Lunch

1:30 PM - 3:30 PM - Business Pitch Competition

3:30 PM - 3:45 PM - Award Ceremony

3:45 PM - 4:00 PM - Happy Hour

This event is Saturday, September 23, from 9 am to 4 pm at Moran Hotel. Click here to register.

September 27 — Space IT UP: Demo Day

Presented by ITA and ASI in collaboration with the Space Foundation, this event celebrates the journey of six Italian companies as they launch their groundbreaking space ventures from Houston's thriving space ecosystem. Following a five-week accelerator program, these companies will be pitching their innovative space solutions at this Demo Day.

This event is Wednesday, September 27 , from 5:30 to 8 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

September 27 — Pearland Innovation Hub Grand Opening

Come learn more about the Pearland Innovation Hub, tour the new space, and celebrate the expansion. Raffle prizes will be available for attendees and f ood and drinks will be provided for registered attendees.

This event is Wednesday, September 27, from 6 to 8 pm at Pearland Innovation Hub. Click here to register.

September 28 — Chevron Technology Ventures Pitch Competition

Chevron is looking for novel technologies or approaches that can be applied to transform their operations. With the goal of removing people from hazardous environments (e.g., confined spaces, working at heights), reducing the environmental impact (e.g., leak detection, emissions monitoring), and increasing the operational efficiency (e.g., autonomous operations, advanced inspection capabilities, predictive asset health capabilities) of their facilities in the decades to come.

Registered attendees will be able to take a tour of the Chevron workspaces within the Cannon West Houston, enjoy refreshments and network.

This event is Thursday, September 28, from 4 to 7:30 pm at the Cannon. Click here to register.

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