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Why a Crowdfunding Campaign?

Part II, Lessons to Be Learned

Recently, UR Ventures launched a crowdfunding campaign in support of further technology development for a project that may offer relief to children with autism (and their caregivers) faced with toilet training. We have done this in order to raise money for the project; obviously, but – more importantly – we also hope to test some assumptions.

First of all, are our assumptions about this project correct? We believe in the Quick Trainer System. We know that autism spectrum disorders affected 1 in every 68 children[1] in the United States in 2012. Recent findings put that number at 1 in 45.[2] All of those children need to be toilet trained. Our research indicates that as many as 35% of children with autism are not using the toilet for urination by the age of 5. We believe that frustrations surrounding toilet training – for the children, as well as for the caregivers – contributes to this delay. The developing evidence shows that our system, developed by Dan Mruzek, Ph.D. and Stephen McAleavey, Ph.D., reduces training-induced stress and achieves toilet training success as much as 30% earlier than traditional methods.

We assume that problems surrounding toilet training children with autism are self-evident. We assume that the public will understand those problems and will care as we do. We assume that they will want to help us to alleviate these problems by contributing to our campaign and by spreading the word. We’ll never know if we’re correct, however, if we don’t ask. What better way to test our assumptions than by asking people to give to the cause? If we succeed, we can consider our assumptions to be vindicated. Success can easily be measured by funds raised, by the number of backers, and by web traffic surrounding the campaign.

Second, can we advance the hardware of the Quick Trainer System to a commercializable state? We won’t know the answer to this question until the dust settles and we use the funds raised to reengineer/redesign the system components as described in the campaign.

Third, what if we fail to raise the requested amount? Some might consider this possibility a total failure, but we would see a failure to meet the goals of this campaign as a successful outcome. Not the outcome we wish for, of course, but a success nonetheless.

Low traffic to the fundraising page would mean that we have done an inadequate job of promoting the project. This will mean we need to reevaluate our methods of communication.

Heavy traffic, but low donations will give us an answer to our first question: are our assumptions about this project correct? If it turns out that the world at large doesn’t recognize a need, or sees the need but fails to consider our solution adequate, then we can focus our efforts elsewhere.

In either case, the outcome is a success in that it will provide us with valuable information.

Fourth, are we successfully getting our message out? We can use this campaign as a very real test of our various communication channels. Which sources will drive traffic to the fundraising page, and which will result in donations? Which message will work best to generate interest? We all have our opinions on these questions, but we will soon have data to support or refute our positions.

Our next post will address other questions raised and soon to be answered by our foray into crowdfunding.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html
[2] https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/new-government-survey-pegs-autism-prevalence-1-45

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Why a Crowdfunding Campaign?

Part I, the need

The University of Rochester is a basic research institution. This means that our world-class scientists ask questions of the universe and then attempt to tease out the answers. They ask questions like: Why do we sleep? Can an object be hidden in plain sight? Or Can a surface be modified to repel water?

The vast majority of research conducted at Rochester – like at every other basic research institution – is funded through grants. That’s great news for the early research, but what happens when our research results in an important discovery with commercial potential? Such discoveries are often very early-stage, requiring additional research, data, or a simple demonstration that our assumptions are correct and our solutions efficacious.

Grants don’t pay for proof-of-concept follow-up research or prototype development. They pay only for pure research. Developing discoveries to the point where they are commercially applied and serve the public good is beyond their scope.

Therefore, universities turn to commercial partners to get important discoveries to market. Commercial partners, as a rule, are risk-averse and disinterested in licensing basic research discoveries until those discoveries have been developed and de-risked to the point of a reasonable likelihood of commercial (and financial) success.

Scott Catlin, Associate Vice President for Technology Ventures, uses an apple metaphor to explain this disconnect: Customers want to buy beautiful, juicy apples. We have a handful of seeds. We’re pretty sure – but not always 100% confident – that they’re apple seeds. A grocer can’t sell seeds to her apple-hungry customers, but if we show her a tree laden with beautiful, juicy apples we can do business. There may be an occasional grocer who will take our word on the quality of the fruit if we can, at the very least, prove that our seeds grow into healthy apple trees. It is, therefore, incumbent on us at the University – at UR Ventures – to grow as many seeds as we can into trees.

At the University of Rochester, one of the mechanisms we have to develop our discoveries to the point at which they attract commercial interest is the Technology Development Fund. The TDF is funded by the University, the Medical Center, UR Ventures, and through generous donations, but there is never going to be enough available resources to fund every worthy project. As it is, we manage to fund between 4 and 8 projects annually. This means we need to find alternate means to advance the rest. To this end, UR Ventures is field-testing a crowdfunding campaign to see if this might be a viable option for a few select projects. The project was discussed in the April 2016 issue of UR Ventures Technology Review and the campaign may be viewed here.

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Introducing UR Ventures

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Changes have come to technology transfer at the University of Rochester. As of 21 October 2013, OTT is now UR Ventures. We are changing more than our name – we are changing our focus. Traditional thinking in technology transfer is to concentrate primarily on patent generation to protect potentially valuable ideas, often with limited proactive effort to develop or market the technology. In other words, this approach runs the risk of making patent prosecution all-important. The issued patent can become the goal, rather than the development of innovation from the laboratory to the marketplace.

At UR Ventures, we are adopting a technology-centered project management approach, focusing on getting each discovery to the finish line as quickly and efficiently as possible. We seek to identify and procure the resources necessary to get each discovery to the public . . . or to define the gaps and missing resources standing in the way of success. If the obstacles prove insurmountable, we want to arrive at that conclusion as quickly and cheaply as possible.

UR Ventures sits at the nexus of academic research and the business world. Our function is to match our discoveries with businesses and investors that will be able to move them to market. Our challenge is to help develop, prove, and de-risk innovations within the University to a stage at which those businesses and investors can believe in them enough to carry them forward.

We have begun realigning some of our operation to accommodate this new approach, and more changes are coming. We look forward to the journey and hope that you’ll join us. For more information, please visit our web site at www.rochester.edu/ventures. There you will find links to all of our social media platforms.

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Gastroenterologists Use New Technology to Detect Precancerous Cells

Vivek - Esophagus AnnouncementEsophageal adenocarcinoma is now the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States, but gastroenterologists at The Center for Advanced Therapeutic Endoscopy at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have been using an innovative technology to detect precancerous cells in time to prevent disease progression.

The WATS3D computer-assisted brush biopsy takes a wide sample of tissue from the esophagus and then analyzes it using a 3-Dimensionial computer imaging system that is based on an algorithm developed as part of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program.  WATS3D stands for “Wide Area Transepithelial Sample.”

URMC Gastroenterologist Vivek Kaul, M.D., along with Gastroenterology Fellows Danielle Marino, M.D., and Donald Tsynman, M.D., today in Orlando, Fla., presented new research examining WATS3D at Digestive Disease Week®, the world’s largest gathering of physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

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Stephen Dewhurst Named Vice Dean for Research at UR School of Medicine and Dentistry!

Steve DewhurstStephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., has been named vice dean for research at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. A faculty member since 1990 and past senior associate dean for basic research, Dewhurst will lead the School’s research strategic planning process and help advance its research priorities by identifying areas of excellence in which to make strategic investments; strengthening the research infrastructure; improving education and training; and promoting collaborations and alliances that will result in increased research funding.

The new position was recommended by a faculty-led strategic planning committee headed by Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., and Lynne E. Maquat, Ph.D. As vice dean for research, Dewhurst will work closely with the senior associate deans for basic and clinical research, J. Edward Puzas, Ph.D., and Thomas A. Pearson, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., to accomplish these goals.

“There’s no doubt that this is a challenging time in science: Researchers are faced with an extremely competitive funding environment and a scientific landscape that is changing more rapidly than ever before,” said Mark B. Taubman, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “We take these issues very seriously and believe Steve will help leadership and faculty respond to these challenges. With a wide-ranging understanding of research and an outstanding track record of organizing successful institutional collaborations, he is the ideal candidate for the job.”

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RocNext Featured Article: UR Revamping Research Commercialization – Scott Catlin Hired to Oversee Innovation and Technology

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Each stage of Scott Catlin’s career has taken him in a slightly different direction, but, as a whole, it amounts to an ideal path leading to his new role as vice president for innovation and technology commercialization at the University of Rochester.

Catlin, who started in the job on March 1, took advantage of an Air Force ROTC program to pay for his college education, but he later recognized how the decision was worth more than cost of tuition.

“Even though I did it originally for financial reasons, I got so much out of it from a leadership and management perspective. If I had known then what I know now, I probably would have done it even if they didn’t pay for school,” said Catlin, who earned a bachelor’s degree in optical engineering at UR in 1992.

Three years later, Catlin graduated from Notre Dame Law School. Afterward he served as a judge advocate general, mainly handling criminal prosecutions before going to work for about a year as a management consultant at Bain Capital.

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