As a preeminent research university, the University of South Florida has received over 100 U.S. patents annually since 2016; now, the school seeks to boost area startups and create jobs by enlisting local entrepreneurs to commercialize its intellectual property (IP).
Wednesday’s virtual 1 Million Cups event featured a pitch with a twist. While the weekly event is a platform for local entrepreneurs to present their startups to the St. Petersburg business community, Tom Waters sought entrepreneurs to create and enhance startups using USF’s IP and technological resources.
Waters, assistant director of startups & business development for USF, showcased the university’s innovation center and startup incubator. USF Connect is a facility where startups and established companies can use the university’s resources to further business growth.
“If you need Ph.D. chemists or wet lab space – which they’re very well known for – or if you need … graduate students, or you need high-end computer gear that you can’t afford, but you’d like to rent by the hour, that’s where you can come,” said Waters.
Waters said he is relatively new to the university and served as a mentor for Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley during the height of the pandemic. Before working with Carnegie Mellon, Waters spent seven years with Jabil, the St. Petersburg-based manufacturing solutions provider. Waters said his role with USF is to take the university’s IP into the Tampa Bay region and create new businesses and jobs.
Waters stressed that entrepreneurs from any incubator in the state are welcome to use USF’s patents, copyrights and big data sets. He noted he is currently working with a small startup based in St. Pete’s Maritime Defense and Technology Hub, along with Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of the new Tampa Bay Innovation Center.
“Any IP developed by the university can be turned into a startup anywhere in the state,” Waters said. “They’ve been doing this for a long time, creating IP that is licensed out to IBM in New York or Xerox in California.
“What the university wants, is more of that turning into jobs in the State of Florida – and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Waters said USF is known for its wealth of patents, and the college is in the top 10 public universities for patent creation. He asked anyone with an idea who may not be an inventor to reach out to him and ask for help. Whether it is IP in blockchain technology, healthcare or computer science, Waters said, “the answer is yes, we have lots.”
In 2021, USF received 111 patents, 187 disclosures and 98 licensing agreements across its three campuses. The university currently boasts over 1,000 technology licensing clients, including Google, ExxonMobil and Raytheon.
“You’re not having to wrest the technology away from the folks,” said Waters. “They are actively handing the baby over and saying, ‘here, please take this and run with it.’”
Waters said his focus is using the university’s IP to create as many jobs in the Tampa Bay region as possible. He said that most of the patents are in healthcare, technology and marine science, but he hopes to get the college of arts more involved through the utilization of copyrights and big data sets.
USF has an abundance of technology, he said, “and most of it is just sitting there unused.” He explained that the university’s professors, faculty and graduate students are focused on creating the IP, and commercialization rests on the shoulders of the surrounding business community.
“They cannot commercialize,” said Waters. “They get paid to do something else.”
Waters said the university handles the disclosures, files the patents, applies for copyrights and formats the data sets so that everything is ready for commercialization. Additionally, USF will help find funding for the entrepreneurs, who also receive “a nice, big equity position.”
“I’m looking for entrepreneurs,” reiterated Waters in closing. “Anyone that does not have a garage of their own to go tinker in, I’ve got people across three campuses tinkering on everything you can think of.”
To learn more about USF Research & Innovation Technology Transfer, visit the website here.