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Tillman Gerngross' Plan to Revamp Tech Transfer at Dartmouth

Jul 25, 2013   |   by Ben Fidler   |   Xconomy

For all its cache as an Ivy League school and a beacon of research in New England, Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH has an innovation problem. It’s looking now to one of the area’s most successful biotech entrepreneurs to solve it.

Tillman Gerngross
Professor Tillman Gerngross

It isn’t that the ideas aren’t there. It isn’t that the university isn’t churning out smart, motivated people who are attracted to innovation. Take a quick look at some of the bigger life science venture capital firms— Venrock, Polaris Partners, SV Life Sciences, Greylock Partners, to name a few—and you’ll see Dartmouth alumni littered through their ranks. Rather, it’s that those ideas aren’t leading to commercial opportunities, and ultimately, businesses with enough regularity. And Tillman Gerngross, who started out as an associate professor there 15 years ago before forming two life sciences companies—GlycoFi and Adimab—and becoming one of the area’s most successful, well-known biotech entrepreneurs, is taking that challenge head-on with a bold plan: to reshape how the university handles tech transfer.

“The output of our education is highly entrepreneurial or very close to the innovation/entrepreneurship space, but in the institution somewhat we’ve not found a way of connecting to that outside world,” he says.

So Gerngross is heading a new initiative at Dartmouth called the Office of Entrepreneurship & Technology Transfer, through which he plans to change the way the typical university tech transfer office is run. The official duties of the office are to oversee several of Dartmouth’s existing offices, such as the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center, and the college’s existing tech transfer office. But as Gerngross explains, he wants to turn the office into a true enabler of innovation, rather than a gatekeeper of it. To do this, he wants to give entrepreneurs the ownership of their inventions, help them find the best method for them to build value, aid with the creation of infrastructure, and help connect those companies with the university’s vast network of venture capital alumni.

“I think you can create a much more exciting story than what you’re doing now, which is basically being in the taxing innovation business,” he says.

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