November 26, 2014

Putting Research to Work

Beyond the Ivory Tower

Plant City-based Utek has made a business of helping small publicly traded companies acquire university research.

Barbara Miracle | 4/1/2006
Small companies typically don't have the money or talent to do highly technical research and development on their own. Universities produce an abundance of sophisticated research but often find it hard to turn that expertise into commercial products. What they both need, says Utek Chairman and CEO Clifford M. Gross, is a matchmaker.

Plant City-based Utek has made a business of helping small publicly traded companies acquire university research. Since 1997, Utek has put together 55 technology transfer deals and signed sponsored research agreements with four dozen universities, including Johns Hopkins, Yale and the California Institute of Technology. Eight Florida schools -- University of Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Institute of Technology, Florida International University, Florida State University, University of Miami, University of South Florida and University of West Florida -- work with Gross, a former professor specializing in ergonomics at USF.

"Florida universities are growing up. There's been real growth at the major Florida schools in sponsored research," he says.

How it works

Utek brainstorms with its 30 client companies to create wish lists of technologies that would help them advance their products. "We have no technology bias. It's all market-driven," says Gross. About 50% of the tech transfers to date have been in the life sciences and 50% in the physical sciences, he says. Utek relies on its personal contacts at hundreds of government laboratories and research universities as well as four online technology exchanges that it has acquired in the past several years. When it finds a technology, Utek pays the university for licensing rights. The client company obtains rights to the technology from Utek and in exchange gives Utek company stock -- a major plus for small firms that want to leverage the equity in their companies but don't have a lot of cash.

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