Ideas for Developing Country Universities in Teaching Technology Commercialization: The Experience at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Baltimore, Maryland, U. S. A.
Universities will have a major role in educating the new generation of entrepreneurs. It is important to make this education as realistic as possible.
Ten years experience at the University of Baltimore has helped us develop a curriculum for training students on how to plan technology commercialization. The program evaluates technology from local companies, government laboratories and individuals and provides recommendations on which technologies have commercialization potential and plans for that commercialization (technology commercialization). The double benefit has been that university students gain experience and the local institutions receive helpful guidance from the final reports.
While the program is based in the university business school, a key concept of this program is to utilize teachers from difference parts of the university that relate to the technology commercialization process. Professors from the law school and publication design department in liberal arts, for example, are involved, as are lawyers and business persons from the community.
Students from several areas of the university are invited to participate in the program, to bring their unique perspectives on the commercialization process. They worked together in teams on each project, with business, law and other students learning how to work together. The final reports from these teams are presented to the entire class and the institution that provides the technology for evaluation.
In this University of Baltimore curriculum there are several courses, functioning in stages, to evaluate a technology. As a final report from one stage is completed, the decision whether to move the project to the next stage is made. In the first stage, commercialization potential for the technology is assessed. In the second stage, marketing of the product/service and of the technology license is assessed. In the third stage, the project goal is to complete a business plan and to have the technology ready for commercialization, with appropriate licensing or other business arrangements being concluded.
A detailed review of this program is being presented at the USASBE conference this January in the article: A Decade of Experiential Entrepreneurship Education: Opportunities in Commercialization Technology, by Michael V. Laric, Ann Patrice Rinker and Lanny Herron, which is attached to this paper as Appendix A.
This paper draws from the experience at the University of Baltimore to suggest ideas that may be useful to developing country universities in teaching technology commercialization.
Technology Commercialization Curriculum for a Developing Country University
While the situation will vary from country to country and for different types of universities, there are several basic curriculum ideas developed at the University of Baltimore that may be useful generally for developing-country universities for teaching technology commercialization.
1. Evaluate local technology. The basic idea of soliciting local companies, local universities, local government research centers, and local private individuals for technology to evaluate is a sound approach. There are several benefits to using real technology and having the inventors involved. Quite often in the University of Baltimore program the inventors and other business persons have attended some of the classes as well as the Final Report session. The community relationship that develops, as well as the valuable information provided, are especially important. Of course, steps must be taken, through proper agreements, to safe guard the information received local sources from public disclosure and loss of IP rights.
2. Conduct classes on basic business, legal and other related technology commercialization topics. There are many questions to answer in evaluating whether a technology may be commercially success. The business persons need to know basic business principles, economic considerations, and legal issues. Included in the legal side are the intellectual property rights that may be obtained and seeing that the proper steps to protect the technology are taken in a timely fashion. Many of these topics can be organized into a series of classes that train the students in what to look for during the evaluation and how to plan the commercialization steps.
3. Utilize professors from various university departments and local community professionals as well. While the University of Baltimore program was based in the business school, the program could have been located in one of several departments. The selection will vary with the university composition, but it should include teachers from the business, law, economics and communications areas. In addition, speakers from the community can offer valuable insights from their experience. The skills of organizing the Final Report and making the presentations, for example, are best learned from teachers who teach and practice these techniques. The curriculum should offer the students the opportunity to learn a wide range of skills essential to successful technology commercialization. This multi-department approach also has the advantage of creating opportunities for inter-department cooperation between teachers and with community professionals that can help the university in many ways.
4. Form teams of students from several departments. A very unique feature of the University of Baltimore experience is to have students from law, business and liberal arts programs participate in the program. Each technology project is assigned a team of students that is carefully organized to provide students from law, business and other key departments. These students use the expertise gained from their university education in evaluating and planning. The interaction during team meetings and in other parts of the course creates a practical approach to the work and valuable interpersonal skills.
5. Final Report and presentation to the class and companies submitting the technology. The course must be well organized, with a clear schedule, winding up with the Final Report from each team. A format for the report is required (See Appendix B as an example - the Opportunity Analysis, initial stage of course at the University of Baltimore). The written reports are prepared by the teams after considerable discussion, which is an important part of the student's experience. This stage requires the students to apply the business principles presented in the course, and to evaluate the information collected. The oral presentations by each team give the entire class an opportunity to learn what other teams have accomplished. Representatives from the institutions that provided the technology should be invited to attend the Final Reports presentation. Professors involved in the program participate in this session. Questions asked at this session are very helpful in the final evaluation.
6. Multiple stage evaluation is optional. In a developing-country university, the opportunity to conduct several stages of evaluation may be unrealistic. While the University of Baltimore program used three stages for some technologies, the first stage provide its own valuable Final Report and experience for the students. The idea of starting a technology commercialization program with only one stage may be the best approach for a developing-country university. If a technology project looks very promising after the course, it may be possible to assign several students who have had the initial stage course to continue work on the project as an independent research study.
The technology commercialization curriculum at the University of Baltimore is constantly being refined for improvement. There are many ways to implement the basic ideas that have been used. The overall concept of evaluating technology from the local community has proved to be very effective. The general program structure, with multi-department participation and a team with students from various department related to technology commercialization have been valuable program features. The team Final Report and presentations are important parts of the program.
In a developing-country university the ideas discussed above can be considered when determining what makes sense, especially for the initiation of a technology commercialization course. Everything discussed can be scaled to a small class, to test out the ideas and create a course that works for the particular university in question.
The University of Baltimore would be delighted to offer what help it can with developing-country universities who are interested in starting a technology commercialization program that uses any of the ideas discussed in this paper, or with related new ideas. Though the University currently has no funds available for such collaboration, the University offers to partner with one or more developing-country universities to pursue appropriate funding. Developing-country faculty members are encouraged to consider attending one of the University of Baltimore technology commercialization courses, which are usually offered each semester, either for the whole semester or as a short term guest. (The University of Baltimore currently has no funds available to sponsor these visits.)
The principle contact for the program is Dr. Lanny Herron, Robert G. Merrick School of Business. His E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone 410-837-5069, and mail address: Dr. Lanny Herron, University of Baltimore School of Law, 1420 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland, U. S. A
Best Practice contributed by Professor, Dr. Lanny Herron, School of Business; Professor William T. Fryer, III, School of Law, University of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.
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