Innovators Finish Year With 3 New Records

It’s been a year for the record books for University of Pittsburgh innovators.

In its analysis of fiscal year 2017, Pitt's Innovation Institute is reporting its highest-ever numbers of startups, patents and invention disclosures — all tangible signs of the University community’s ongoing commitment to the strategic goal of engaging in impactful research.

By May, the number of patents issued for University innovations already had surpassed the 2016 record of 80. And now, the final count is in: As of the June 30 end of the fiscal year, 102 patents were awarded for Pitt-developed innovations. That’s up 27.5 percent over last year and double the number issued in 2013, the year the Innovation Institute was established.

The formation of 15 startups is another all-time high, surpassing last year’s record of 13. Student entrepreneurs launched another 14 startups of their own.

In addition, Pitt made 146 deals to commercialize its technology, including options, which allow companies to essentially place a hold on a technology for a specific length of time while evaluating it. The number is an increase of 20 percent over last year.

And the pipeline continues to fill. Pitt faculty, staff and students submitted a record 329 invention disclosures — the first step toward commercializing an innovation.

“These numbers demonstrate that Pitt innovators are increasingly taking the final step with their research by seeing it translated from the lab to the market,” said Innovation Institute Founding Director Marc Malandro. “The numbers also reflect the increased resources available to fund and launch their innovations.”

Pitt support

In total, Pitt innovators received more than $4.3 million in precommercialization funding from sources across the University, including the Innovation Institute’s First Gear commercialization program; the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds; idea pitch competitions such as the Wells Competition, the Kuzneski Innovation Cup and the Randall Family Big Idea Competition; the Pitt Innovation Challenge and others. Nearly 900 students participated in the Innovation Institute’s programs and competitions.

In the past year, 20 innovation teams participated in First Gear, each receiving an initial grant of $3,000 to fund precommercialization activities through the National Science Foundation I-Corps program — making them eligible for the national I-Corps program, which provides another $50,000 in funding.

To support students’ efforts, the Blast Furnace student idea accelerator offered a new fellowship for its spring cohort, providing five teams $10,000 each toward launching a startup.

Overall, 36 teams participated in three Blast Furnace cohorts. Two of the teams were named among the National Council of Entrepreneurial Tech Transfer’s best university startups.

Corporate partnerships

The Innovation Institute added several new partnerships and collaborations during the fiscal year to accelerate commercial translation of Pitt innovations, including the following:

  • A multifaceted collaboration agreement with the sleep and respiratory care division of Dutch electronics and health care company Philips for commercialization of Pitt research.
  • A partnership with local incubator Idea Foundry for evaluating promising early stage life sciences technologies.
  • A partnership with Philadelphia-based Phase I Ventures providing funding and management assistance for select Pitt innovations.
  • A master collaboration agreement with Pittsburgh-based contract research company Helomics Corp. to co-develop new intellectual property and commercialize existing University technologies.

In addition, the nonpartisan Milken Institute recently recognized the work of Pitt innovators. It ranked Pitt No. 24 among the nation’s best universities for technology transfer, based on averages of 2012–15 indicators.

The Innovation Institute’s full annual report will be posted here later this year.