Women to the fore in UCC’s Office of Technology Transfer

Front, Myriam Cronin and Professor Anita Maguire; back from left, Miriam Walsh, Julianne Quinlan, Eleanor Cornish, Siobháin McSweeney, Sheila Creedon, Josette O’Mullane, Christine Alcorn and Rachel O’Leary. Pic: Dan Linehan

There is something very special happening at the Office of Technology Transfer in UCC — it’s not just the world-class tech innovation and research, but also the volume of women involved in carrying it out.

The global dearth of women involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) has been long documented, but the team currently being overseen by UCC vice president for research and innovation, Professor Anita Maguire, is evidence that there is no reason barriers should exist.

While not exclusively a female team, it is striking just how the Office of Technology Transfer relies on the ability of women in leadership.

In her VP role, Prof Maguire overseas all research collaborations with industry and UCC, the identification of all inventions and innovations, intellectual property management, patent filing, licensing agreement and all stages of commercialisation of research from securing funding, incubation and acceleration of UCC spin-out and start-up companies.

Ahead of the 2018 Invention of the Year Awards ceremony at UCC on Wednesday, the UCC chemistry graduate said: “All that research income goes into conducting research that generates groundbreaking innovations and inventions. 

"Sometimes the tech is transferred to an existing company, and sometimes it may lead to the creation of a brand-new venture. 

"We incubate these companies through our Gateway incubator and our Sprint accelerator programmes.

“Effective knowledge transfer allows the UCC research community to expand the impact of their work, through transforming their novel technologies and ideas into products that benefit the local community and society more broadly, in addition to delivering potential economic benefits to our region and the country.

“Creating and nurturing effective long-term partnerships with the enterprise sector is a key priority, building on research expertise, infrastructure and ideas, complementing the role of the Higher Education Institutions sector in growing and developing the workforce of the future.”

UCC intellectual property is found in products ranging from microelectronics to digestive health to anti-money laundering software, said commercialisation manager at UCC and Teagasc, Sharon Sheahan. 

I work with our researchers to identify inventions and file patents to protect their intellectual property. We really are at the cutting edge of the technology, discovering it and keeping it confidential until it is market ready.

The journey from that initial identification of intellectual property through to commercialisation is a long one. 

Ms Sheahan’s role is to see the process through to signed deals and industry partnerships.

“Knowledge transfer is a long-term game — investment in research can take decades to reach an exciting commercial outcome and is a complex non-linear process. Successful tech transfer is not always easy, requiring many complex steps to turn an innovation into a spinoff application,” she said.

For researchers looking to start a business based on their inventions, UCC provides a range of support to ensure commercial success and attractiveness for investment or possible acquisition.

UCC gateway incubation manager, Myrian Cronin said: “Each year a number of our researchers chose to start their own businesses. 

"We run incubator accelerator programmes to support them on this journey. We work with Enterprise Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices, venture capitalists, business angels and mentors to make this happen.

“Luxcel Biosciences Ltd is a good example of a company that has been through this process and that was recently acquired by Agilent Technologies.”

Marketing lead at the Office of Technology Transfer, Rachel O’Leary, said the job was to move cutting-edge technologies out of the labs and into the hands of companies and entrepreneurs.

“Our role is to maximise the potential use of their inventions and their impact on the economy, society and the environment. 

"We do this either through licensing agreements or by creating campus and spin-out companies. 

"For example, much of the tech that’s in the smartphone in your pocket came out of artificial-intelligence studies and speech recognition work that was done by military and government researchers,” said Ms O’Leary.

She added: “Start-ups get a lot of media coverage, but in the world of tech transfer there are so many routes to market, transferring technology out of labs and into industry. It’s not just about start-ups and spin-outs.

“Licensing deals is where some of the really exciting stuff happens and where we can see the real potential impact of inventions and innovations being maximised.

“We are signing deals with multinational giants who operate world-class, cutting-edge companies on the global stage, and so to compete, our research must be globally leading to contribute innovations and inventions to these partners. 

"Many of the research centres in UCC such as the Tyndall Institute and APC Microbiome Ireland are recognised as global centres of excellence.”