A Guide to Intellectual Property and Commercialization at UGA
Licensing to a Startup Company
A startup company is a new business entity formed to commercialize one or more related inventions. Some reasons for launching startup include:
- no existing company to develop the technology, but the technology could benefit the public;
- no existing company is able to commercialize the technology in its current form but would be interested if the technology were developed further by a startup company;
- there is a clear market demand for the product; or
- to create opportunity to produce or sell products in a niche market.
The decision to form a new startup company is made by the founders of the proposed startup company with consultation from the Innovation Gateway Startup Program. If a new business startup is chosen as the preferred commercialization path, Innovation Gateway will assist you and the other founders in planning and executing the process. Some key factors considered when deciding on whether to form a startup company are:
- market risk (are there enough customers willing to buy your product/service?)
- developmental risk (often companies in established industries are unwilling to take the risk)
- potential for multiple products or services from the same technology (few companies survive on one product alone)
- sufficiently large competitive advantage and largest market
- business model sufficient to sustain and grow a company
Yes. If the entrepreneurial team behind the startup venture is well structured and has a clear understanding of the path forward, Innovation Gateway is always open to considering licensing to that startup.
The Innovation Gateway Startup Program includes a comprehensive support system to help guide and advise university spin-out startup companies. The Startup Program incubator provides services to startup and early stage companies to help them develop and succeed. The incubator is intended for startup or early stage companies that are involved in the research and development of new products and services. Companies must have established research relationships with UGA researchers or they must have an interest in initiating those relationships.
Read more information on the incubator admission process.
UGA faculty typically serve as founders of the startup company. As the company matures, faculty members serve as scientific/technology consultants, advisors or in some other technical development capacity. Rarely do faculty choose to leave UGA and join the startup in a C-level position.
In many cases, the faculty role is suggested by the startup investors and management team who identify the best role based on the inventor’s expertise and interests. As the company matures, and additional investment is required, the inventor’s role may change. Faculty involvement of any kind in a startup is also reviewed by a UGA Conflict of Interest Committee (COIC). Student inventors and postdocs may choose to join the startup upon graduation but rarely have the experience or business skills to serve as the company’s sole management.
Generally, faculty founders initially focus on proof-of-concept grant applications (GRA Phase 1-2) and feasibility studies (STTR/SBIR Phase 1) to determine if the technology can be translated into a product. Once funding for the company is secured, faculty founders serve as advisors to the company and retain partial ownership of the company but do not have day-to-day responsibilities since the company would have employees.
Starting a company requires a considerable amount of time and effort. Until the full startup team is identified and engaged, the faculty member will need to champion the formation effort. After the team is in place, effort is required for investor discussions, formal responsibilities in or with the company, and University processes such as conflict of interest reviews.
In addition to corporate counsel, the startup may have its own intellectual property counsel to assist with corporate patent strategy, especially if the company will be involved in a patent-rich area. The startup’s counsel must be separate from UGA counsel, though it is advisable and recommended that the corporate IP Counsel and the UGA patent counsel coordinate activities. Also, it is wise for inventors to have agreements regarding their roles with the startup reviewed by their own counsel to ensure that all personal ramifications, including taxation and liabilities, are clearly understood.
The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) is a nonprofit organization partnered with the University System of Georgia and Georgia’s Department of Economic Development that aims to stimulate economic growth within Georgia’s biotechnology and life sciences sectors.
GRA Ventures is GRA’s commercialization arm that provides expertise to establish clear pathways from innovation to the marketplace. Faculty researchers can connect with experienced business and technical experts who assist with innovation evaluation regarding business opportunity, planning, and capitalization requirements. Through the GRA Ventures seed grant program, faculty researchers can get the resources necessary to start companies based upon their research and ultimately become residents of the Innovation Gateway Incubator.
See for more details concerning the GRA Ventures seed grant application process.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program is a public-private partnership that helps develop scientific and engineering discoveries into useful technologies. The program connects academic researchers and students with the technological, entrepreneurial, and business communities at the local level.
See the NSF I-Corps website for more information.
UGA was designated as an I-Corps Site by a 2017 NSF grant. I-Corps sites provide resources for the creation, development, and nurturing of entrepreneurial teams interested in transitioning their ideas, technologies, devices, processes, or other intellectual activities into the marketplace.
UGA has developed the I-Corps Accelerator, an intensive six-week program to help teams identify, test, and validate customer segments, and then arrive at a value proposition that fits between the teams’ product and the market.
See the NSF I-Corps website for more information.
UGA I-Corps is open to the University community, including undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as the local entrepreneurial community within Athens-Clarke County and Northeast Georgia.
The I-Corp Site program supports teams typically comprised of an Academic, an Entrepreneurial Lead, and a Business Mentor. Interested teams must have a project or idea in the area of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).
See the UGA I-Corps application for more information.
The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs support federal research and development by small businesses and aim to increase private sector commercialization of technological innovation derived from federal funding.
Conflict of Interest
Each University employee shall make reasonable effort to avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interests (COI). An apparent conflict exists when a reasonable person would conclude that the circumstances of a personal, financial, or business interest compromises an employee’s ability to protect the public interest, or perform public duties. An apparent conflict can exist even in the absence of a legal conflict of interest. UGA employees are referred to State Conflict of Interest Statutes O.C.G.A. § 45-10-20 through § 45-10-70.
A conflict arises in sponsored projects when an employee has a Significant Financial Interest (SFI) that could directly and significantly affect decision making in the design, conduct, or reporting of University research. When submitting a University sponsored research proposal, all employees must disclose SFIs. Employees must also disclose SFIs of the employee’s spouse and dependent children that are related to the employee’s University responsibilities.
Read more information about financial conflicts of interest (FCOI).
College, school, or unit “Approvers,” to whom employee COI are disclosed, as well as the Office of Research Integrity and Safety, which reviews COI in sponsored projects, are concerned with a variety of potential issues. Including, whether or not a researcher can separate University research from company research, provide unbiased and appropriate guidance to students, maintain academic integrity in research and education, and adhere to government mandated policies.
The separation of University and company resources is key to a conflict review. If an employee’s company intends to utilize University resources, the University must approve that use and the company must reimburse the University. The UGA Startup Program, however, does offer rental space for company use, via its Incubator Space. UGA may also receive company-sponsored research funding.
Conflicts of interest are disclosed to, and managed by, the employee’s college, school, or unit. Conflicts of interest in sponsored projects are disclosed during the proposal of sponsored projects and managed if an award is made for which an investigator has a Significant Financial Interest related to the sponsored project.
COI management plans typically include disclosure requirements, rules regarding student participation in a startup, guidelines for startup negotiations with UGA and a plan for Departmental involvement in oversight. For a Sponsored Projects Conflicts Management Plan, the Department Chair typically serve as “Responsible Conflict Administrator,” working closely with the conflicted personnel and the Office of Research Integrity and Safety throughout the course of the sponsored project on implementation and oversight of the Plan.
While a COI will exist should a UGA employee choose to begin a startup company, those conflicts are manageable so long as they are appropriately disclosed and managed.