Ask the Expert -- The mission: What's it all about?
It’s a Friday afternoon at the new Alpha Loft, at the Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center (UNH ECenter) in Durham. I’m at a conference room table with a computer science professor, business school junior, and a UNH licensing manager.
We’re discussing technology developed at the University of New Hampshire; technology that could make the transfer of large data files much more efficient through the Internet, instead of through FedEx. That’s right, extremely large data files are still sent in physical form around the world. The discussion we’re having is about the potential commercial market for this technology.
You may be wondering what brought this group together and why.
Alpha Loft is dedicated to accelerating the development of early-stage, scalable businesses, commercializing the intellectual capital developed at UNH and other leading educational institutions, and creating sustainable employment opportunities in New Hampshire.
That’s our mission at Alpha Loft and the focal point of our work every day.
Often people hear about and participate in our workshops, programs and events, and most are aware we operate three co-working locations where startups work on a daily basis.
Less well known are those things we’re doing in partnership with the University of New Hampshire to achieve the second part of our mission: commercializing intellectual capital developed at UNH.
Grants and awards in excess of $100 million per year to UNH come from a broad range of sponsors — federal agencies, state agencies, foundations and other nonprofits, businesses and other universities and institutions. These funds stretch across virtually every aspect of university studies, and are overseen by UNH Office of Research Senior Vice Provost Jan Nisbet. Within her purview is UNHInnovation, led by Associate Vice Provost Marc Sedam.
Among UNHInnovation’s priorities is the commercialization of the intellectual property and research developed at the university. World-class research holds the promise of world changing products and services, and UNHInnovation is positioned to identify commercial opportunities for UNH research through licensing to existing companies or to startups. This is one of the areas in which the UNH partnership with Alpha Loft is leveraged.
Throughout UNH, professors and students across every academic discipline work at the cutting edges of their field of study, exploring and testing new concepts that advance the understanding of their field. The basis of these advances is intellectual property or “creations of the intellect,” including inventions, literature, works of art, designs, etc. This intellectual property may be protected through patents, trademarks and copyrights. Each of these protections costs money, sometimes a lot.
Whether or not to spend funds protecting IP, and what protections to pursue, are decisions made by UNHI. Part of the decision-making is driven by the potential opportunity to commercialize the IP, leading to financial gain. Many universities, including UNH, have streams of income from the commercialization of IP. UNHI works to grow that income stream.
UNHI and Alpha Loft
The partnership between UNHI and Alpha Loft supports, among other things, these commercialization efforts particularly if there may be an opportunity for the IP to be licensed to a startup company. If the market opportunities for the IP are large enough and there will be value to that market, starting a new company to exploit the opportunity rather than licensing it to an existing company may make sense. The meeting described at the beginning of this column was a first step in considering those options, and one of many we will have this year.
The decision whether to license to an existing company or to a startup is important because the outcomes can be quite different. In the licensing of IP to an existing company the university has an opportunity for an income stream, but the licensee could be located anywhere. If the licensee were a startup company located here in New Hampshire, the outcome can have much greater impact. UNH has a bigger financial opportunity, and such an approach can profoundly impact the economy of the state if a significantly large company can be built on the basis of the IP.
The UNH and Alpha Loft partnership is aimed at this kind of outcome. A company scaling up in New Hampshire based upon UNH intellectual property will create a more vibrant economy, including opportunities for UNH graduates. The partnership also supports the education of students about startups, as was the case for the junior business student in the meeting, learning practical application of knowledge gained through classroom studies.
There is a robust and virtuous cycle created by the partnership; learning for students, commercialization of IP, connecting Alpha Loft’s network of experienced entrepreneurs, and ultimately potential startup companies that can grow to scale building a stronger New Hampshire economy.
I look forward to hearing from you at unionleader.com/expert or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Kaplan , CEO of Alpha Loft, has 30 years of executive, financial, venture capital and investment industry experience. He led the creation of the current Alpha Loft organization in New Hampshire through the combination of three separate entities. He serves on the advisory council of the New Hampshire Live Free & Start initiative and chairs the capital access subcommittee.