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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 10 | Nov. 4, 2004

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 and mentor.

“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 Technology Network.

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 incubator.

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 gary.albach@uilo.ubc.ca.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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