Technology transfer officers at universities are charged with converting university-created intellectual property into viable businesses, often partnering with private investment firms in the process. A successful tech transfer officer can bring in millions to a university coffers, but many are vastly underpaid.
Some universities are starting to rethink the way they pay the people that help monetise IP. Among these new ideas are performance-based incentives, which are commonplace perks for similar jobs in the private sector.
According to AUTM’s most recent salary survey, 30 percent of university tech transfer directors received a bonus, up from about 10 percent when the survey started in 1998. Those bonuses now average $20,000 each year, depending on their performance the previous year. Some universities see the institution of bonuses as necessity to stop their best and brightest from jumping ship.
Retaining talent at tech transfer offices has always been difficult. Lesley Millar, director of the Office of Technology Management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says: “Probably the life of a tech transfer officer at a university in the late 1990s was about a year and a half. There was significant turnover.”
To slow this turnover, the University of Illinois is looking hard at how other universities incentivise their tech transfer teams. “The primary purpose of putting in an incentive pay scheme is to both to retain and attract good-quality staff,” Millar says. “We’re trying to work out how you do that in this highly competitive market.”
According to Wayne State University’s Fred Reinhart, vice president for finance at the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), incentive schemes are often viewed as too much of a headache. “It gets sort of messy,” Reinhart says. “It could be a long-range bookkeeping nightmare. Our philosophy here at Wayne State is that it should be straightforward and almost simple, to make sure that everybody understands it.”
“They get a straight salary and the most fun job they ever had—what I call my binary incentive system,” Nelsen says. “You do a good job, and you get to keep the most fun job you ever had.”
This and other topics will be discussed at the upcoming University Start-Ups Conference 2006, to be held in Washington DC on October 23 – 25 and sponsored by the NCET2. PrivateEquityOnline readers will enjoy a 10 percent discount by using discount code PEOCODE06. Learn more at http://www.ncet2.org/