PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — When Brown University unveiled its Brown and the Innovation Economy action plan in July 2018, an essential commitment outlined was to create new commercial partnerships among Brown researchers and industry partners, new intellectual property and commercialization policies at the University, and an optimal infrastructure to help faculty turn research ideas into commercial ventures.
Behind much of that work is the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing (part of the Office of the Vice President for Research) which after a national search welcomed Neil Veloso as its new executive director in January.
Veloso is the most senior officer at the University dedicated to growing technology commercialization efforts to advance opportunities around new venture creation, technology licensing and industry-sponsored research.
Veloso has spent more than two decades working at the intersection of academic research and commercialization. He has served as executive director of technology transfer at Johns Hopkins University and senior director at Cleveland Clinic Innovations. As a consultant and advisor, he has worked with leading private and public universities, academic medical centers and investors.
He shared his thoughts on the strengths that position Brown to turn research discoveries into new technologies.
Q: How does the work of the office you lead connect with the core educational mission of Brown?
I see the Office of Industry Engagement and Commercial Venturing (IECV) — and technology transfer in general — as a logical extension of the University's mission.
Traditionally, many universities have seen graduating students as their only form of technology transfer, where students are educated and sent off into the world. But through technology transfer, we can now protect discoveries, get them out in the marketplace and see products from those university insights and discoveries impact society as a whole.
From Brown’s 10-year plan, Building on Distinction, to its innovation economy strategy, IECV is positioned to be an essential contributor and also benefit from the effects of that strategy.
Q: What makes Brown ready to actively pursue more commercial partnerships based on the intellectual property developed by faculty?
What really makes Brown competitive are its fundamentals — specifically its ability to obtain research funds and to organize itself around key areas. The University is very strong in terms of the research funding that it attracts.
Additionally, Brown has a multidisciplinary aspect among its faculty and among its departments that can help us pursue more commercial partnerships. Industry partners like to interact around a specific technology, but generally that technology needs to be later stage. For a broad research collaboration, the ability to gain access and insight from the entire university, in multidisciplinary environments —that is appealing to companies looking to partner with us.
Q: In terms of tech transfer, what do you hope Brown can accomplish in the next few years?
Overall, I see IECV pursuing core values of transparency, accountability and promptness in how we interact with our customers — faculty inventors who give us new discoveries and technology buyers or investors who take those discoveries and turn them into products. We need robust internal systems in place so that we can effectively manage Brown's technology, from patenting to licensing to license compliance. By having a robust system in place, and adhering to our core values, IECV can provide our customers the best service possible.
Downstream, I would like to see more industry engagement with Brown, centered around technology and manifesting itself through licensing and industry research.
Q: What makes Brown an attractive place to do business?
Definitely its multidisciplinary approach, which I find extremely interesting and attractive. The Carney Institute for Brain Science is a great example of aggregating large groups of faculty researchers from different departments. You overlay that with the fact that these areas are doing research in high-impact areas like neuroscience and med tech, and that makes their work even more relevant to what industry is looking for.
A particular area of strength is Brown’s expertise in biomedical science — what I’ve seen already includes our strengths in oncology, addiction intervention and in the emerging area of the biology of aging. Among companies and investors, these are hot areas now to engage with universities, identify new discoveries and pursue product development.
Q: Innovation is something that's talked about a lot about at universities and in Rhode Island. How can your office advance efforts on that?
We can be a key part of Brown’s role in the innovation economy. I see this manifested by aspiring to what I call the “grand slam” of technology commercialization. That is a faculty startup, based around Brown technology, venture-backed, and located in Providence. If we hit those four bases, it can really impact our efforts to grow innovation within the area. Like any grand slam, they're rare. But it shouldn't stop us from trying to swing for them.
Q: Rhode Island is a small state. Does that make it easier or harder to hit that grand slam?
We may need to compete more in terms of building scale than other places such as Massachusetts or the Bay Area can do. But what can make Rhode Island and Providence competitive is this area’s ability to have strong internal lines of communications. Let’s utilize our size to be more agile than other areas.
Q: What in your background prepared you to lead this effort here? And why did you want to come here?
My entire career has been focused on technology transfer. I’ve been a consultant with a variety of academic institutions and venture funds and academic medical centers, which allowed me to both apply and learn best practices that can be implemented at Brown. I ran a large tech transfer office at Johns Hopkins and was part of a robust commercialization group at Cleveland Clinic Innovations. Brown has the scientific pedigree, breadth of research and focus on technology to take the best practices from those great institutions and apply them here.
Brown was attractive to me also for its the proximity to a large investor and industry base. Additionally, the loyalty and the accomplishments of the University’s alumni make this a great place that can allow us to do things like build up an entrepreneur and advisor group for the office.
Ultimately, I came to Brown to make in impact in commercialization, and for those who engage with my group to know that we put technology first.