Lectures deliver knowledge to build successful spin-offs

Seminar series aims to arm university researchers

Natural gas fuel systems developer Westport Innovations Inc., Web-based learning software-maker WebCT and biotechnology high-flyer QLT PhotoTherapeutics Inc. have something in common.

All three companies--along with many other high-tech firms in the Lower Mainland--sprang to life from the fertile minds of researchers at UBC.

It's an increasing phenomenon that Angus Livingstone has witnessed from his vantage point as managing director of UBC's University-Industry Liaison Office.

"A lot of people are seeing the success of local companies such as QLT and they are saying, `Why not me too,' and trying to turn their research into a company," says Livingstone.

The growth rate of UBC spin-off companies has increased to six to seven a year over the last five to six years. Researchers' interest in taking their work commercial has doubled in the past 12 to 18 months, says Livingstone.

"It's not just professors who try this," he says. "These days you have an increasing number of grad students who are looking at it as an alternative to going to work for somebody else."

But there is a skill to taking a good idea to market, says Livingstone. Common pitfalls such as the lack of a solid business plan, shareholders' agreements, employee contracts, non-disclosure agreements or even basic bookkeeping can derail a fledgling enterprise. He adds that building a strong network of experienced advisers is another key element.

With that in mind, a seminar series entitled Going Corporate: From the Lab to the Market is running at UBC, Simon Fraser University, the Technical University of B.C. and the University of Victoria.

The series brings together university researchers, entrepreneurs and high-tech industry insiders in a bid to inform researchers of the issues they may face in forming their own spin-off company.

It also points out the types of resources that may be available to help them. As well, it provides a forum for entrepreneurs who may wish to partner with promising researchers to develop innovations.

The inaugural series is a collaboration between the industry liaison offices of the four universities and WestLink Innovation Network Ltd., an Edmonton-based non-profit organization that fosters technology development and commercialization at the 13 western Canadian universities.

The series continues with a session at each campus every month until April.

The next session at UBC takes place Feb. 17 at the Forest Sciences Building, room 1005 from 4-6 p.m. It will focus on the nuts and bolts of incorporation and feature a personal account from Tazdin Esmail, president of Forbes Medi-Tech, Inc., a UBC spin-off company in the biotechnology sector.

More information: For a list of upcoming sessions at UBC, visit www.uilo.ubc.ca or call 604-822-8580. For a listing of sessions at other locations, see www.westlink.ca.