UBC Reports | Vol.
50 | No. 10 | Nov.
Turning Innovation into Commercial Success
The university’s new in-house entrepreneur hopes
to tap into IT research
By Hilary Thomson
A catalyst for commercialization is how he describes himself.
Gary Albach, UBC’s new Entrepreneur-in-Residence --
the first such full-time position at a Canadian university
-- hopes to boost the success of UBC start-up companies by
serving as a liaison to markets and investors as well as coach
“My job is to foster entrepreneurship that will maximize
the huge commercial potential of UBC research,” says
Albach, who obtained a PhD from UBC’s physics department
and in 1976 founded UBC’s first spin-off company, Vortek
Industries Ltd. “UBC is well-positioned to develop technologies
of national and international scale through the formation
of spin-off companies.”
Borrowing an idea from the finance community, American universities
such as University of California, Berkeley, and universities
in Australia and Europe have established entrepreneurs-in-residence,
or EIRs, who are experienced in helping researchers grow their
idea into a company.
“Adding Gary to our team is an important step in stimulating
the creation of new companies and facilitating their operation,”
says Angus Livingstone, managing director of the University-Industry
Liaison Office where Albach is based.
In a two-year appointment, one of Albach’s first tasks
will be to explore and build on UBC’s strong Asian connections
to find markets, money and manufacturing resources in China.
Working closely with UBC’s Sauder School of Business,
where he holds the position of Executive-in-Residence, Albach
will tap into the large number of Asian-Canadian commerce
alumni who now hold influential positions in China and can
help develop technology that originates on campus.
The strategy fits with both Albach’s own experience
in international advanced technology marketing and development
in Asia and with a national program to commercialize Canadian
technology. The Industry Research Assistance Program (IRAP)
is a National Research Council of Canada (NRC) initiative
to advance Canadian research. Program leaders have earmarked
UBC’s intensive research environment and Asian connections
as a winning combination.
IRAP’s B.C. component already has strong links to
technology research developers in Asia. When combined with
UBC’s connections, those links add up to what Albach
calls a “goldmine of opportunity.”
“Taking advantage of UBC’s international relationships
sets us apart from what other universities are trying to do
with technology development,” he says.
Albach will identify one or two UBC technologies with excellent
commercial potential and fuel them with necessary support
to create a spin-off company which he will then manage, in
partnership with a UBC team of stakeholders.
It’s a process he’s good at. He has worked for
more than 20 years with international organizations in the
area of technology development, both in Asia and Western Europe.
Here in Canada, he has co-founded UBC spin-off TIR Systems
Inc., along with four other start-ups, most recently Cogent
ChipWare Inc., the commercial arm of the Very Large Scale
Integrated Circuits Laboratory at Simon Fraser University.
Well-connected with both venture capitalists and the high-tech
community, Albach served as the B.C. industry member for the
IRAP board from 1992-1998 and was founding chair of the Canadian
He will support investigators and integrate campus resources
for commercialization of both life sciences and physical sciences,
but his focus will be advanced information and computer technology.
“This area is largely untapped at UBC in terms of
commercialization,” he says. “We’ve got
the best reputation in the world for biotech licensing. I’d
like to build the same success into IT and take it one step
further -- the creation of companies. The great potential
for the future is the merger of IT with biotech for applications
such as genetics research and nanotechnology. We’ve
got all the assets to do this on a global scale.”
To enable successful spin-offs, Albach will work with faculty
to develop UBC’s new Accelerator Centre, housed in the
Gerald McGavin Bldg. on campus. The centre will provide space
and resources to support spin-offs, similar to a technology
Early models for incubators saw researchers sharing space
with resources such as patent lawyers and financial experts.
The model was not ideal, says Albach, because it often lacked
synergy between the players and was not sustainable once initial
start-up activities were completed. His task will be to develop
a model for the centre that will fully integrate resources
and allow the centre to remain vital over the long-term.
His final step will be to find a successor so that entrepreneurship
at UBC can continue to grow.
For further information, Albach can be reached at 604.822.8066
or at email@example.com.