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Technology Transfer Student

Stanford’s Mary Watanabe focuses on finding business partners to adopt homegrown technologies and tools.

Academia often is the most fertile ground for invention — and an ideal place for industries to shop for innovative ideas. The technology transfer offices at scientifically elite universities help market academically grown inventions to various companies, providing an additional revenue stream to their institutions in the form of royalties.

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Stanford University, home to world-renowned scientists and the birthplace of Google, has a few ideas it would like to sell you — or at least license to you. In its fiscal year 2002 to 2003, some 442 inventions originating from within its halls generated $45.4 million for the prestigious school in northern California.

Mary Watanabe, a senior associate who has been with Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing for 12 years, says that her job provides the perfect intersection between science and business. As a sort of broker between the laboratory and the marketplace, the 42 year old is responsible for sitting down with the inventors to understand what they’ve done, determine the commercial applicability of their inventions, and then try to find good homes for them.

“On any given day I may be working with a Nobel Laureate or a graduate student,” she says. “Or I might be dealing with a business person or CEO or an attorney trying to explain to them the technology we have available and trying to understand if that technology fits with the strategic plan of the company. There is a real challenge in that.”

All associates manage their cases from “cradle to grave,” which is no small task considering caseloads can range from 100 to 250. “You might have the next cure for something on your desk and you feel like you’re neglecting it,” says Watanabe. “It used to really stress me out. You can never do enough.”

Would-be applicants also should consider that working within a university setting isn’t like private industry. “There is no ladder to climb in the university tech transfer office,” Watanabe warns.

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