Editor’s note: ‘Charlotte Beat’ is a regular feature on Wednesdays.In the two years since Mark Wdowik started the Office of Transfer Technology at UNC Charlotte, he has been quite a busy man.
Consider this list of achievements:
- 11 companies have been spun off from research being conducted at the institution
- Five more spin-offs in the works
- Nine patents have been awarded to faculty
- Another 57 patents filed for
“We’re focusing less on the intellectual capacity of the past and more on the strength of today — an innovative faculty whose potential is not being tapped,” Wdowik says. “I’ve done a lot of outreach telling them what can be done, built infrastructure for long-term success, and been as creative as I can be.
“I tell them we can help them look at the problems of the world and solve them.” Wdowik adds. “We’ve got a line forming outside the door now.”
Discussing basic issues
When faculty members come to Wdowik with an idea, they start by looking at basic issues.
Is the potential start-up a lifestyle business or a high-growth, quick-exit venture? How will the startup impact a professor’s teaching and research? Is there any chance of external funding?
Once those are settled, Wdowik helps the professor put together a business plan, seek funding, and meet with business leaders – whatever it takes.
“Sometimes an idea is too far ahead of the curve, and it’s not yet practical for business, so I might help get funding for further research at the university,” Wdowik says.
Some faculty remain skeptical of commercialization. “Some see it as a bad thing, a matter of choosing capitalism and profits over the purity of research for the benefit of mankind,” Wdowik says. “But it is about the betterment of mankind — but in a way that protects a researcher’s idea, finds a home for it, and puts the resources behind it to make it successful. And it’s also about economic development — to contribute to the economic stability of the region, creating jobs and conduits for our students after they graduate.”
A diverse background
An eclectic assortment of skills is needed to act as philosopher, mentor, dealmaker and synergy-creator. Wdowik, 42, has a background that gives him what’s needed. He’s an engineer by training, with a degree from the University of Illinois, had a stint with Texas Instruments, was a tech entrepreneur in Colorado, then sold the company and became a consultant before serving in the technology transfer efforts at the University of Kansas.
UNC Charlotte’s Office of Technology Transfer traces its roots back to 1985 when the Office of Research was formed. Universities all over the U.S. formed such offices after the federal Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 mandated such efforts as a way to manage the intellectual capital developed at higher institutions.
Wdowik’s efforts do not happen in a vacuum. His office is located in the C.C. Cameron Applied Research Center, the only building on campus dedicated solely to research with no classrooms. But students spend lots of time there gaining hands-on experience in its clean room and labs for precision engineering, microelectronics and biology.
Wdowik is part of a university team that works closely with the business community to help contribute to the region’s economic development. He, along with Harry Leamy, director of the research center, and Beth Hardin, interim director of the Charlotte Institute for Technology Innovation (CITI) regularly work with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce to recruit firms here. In addition, he is working with City of Charlotte staff as they begin to explore ways to encourage the development of entrepreneurial high tech ventures.
“There are no walls here — we work together as a team and help the Chamber and City in any way we can,” Wdowik says. “We all believe in leveraging the assets of the university for the economic stability of the region — and the state.”
Changes to come with CITI Campus
With the arrival next month of Deborah Clayton as the permanent director of CITI, Wdowik says those relationships will become more effective. “We’ve needed one focal person, one office to handle these strategic partnerships, and she will do that,” he explains.
CITI will be located on a 100-acre site elsewhere on campus. The first buildings — now under construction — will house centers for opto-electronics and precision metrology, both currently housed in the Cameron Center, which Wdowik points out, acts as an incubator of sorts for the university’s research efforts. The university’s Urban Institute, which conducts social science research, was also once located there. A new center — in motorsports engineering — is now getting off the ground. “It’s a natural,” Wdowik says. “Charlotte is the center of NASCAR, and we are bringing all the players together.”
UNC Charlotte Office of Technology Transfer: www.uncc.edu/ott
To contact Wdowik, send email to: email@example.com