'Significant' changes announced at U. tech commercialization
Business • Top post eliminated as process for bringing ideas to market is revamped.
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The University of Utah is eliminating a high-ranking position dedicated to commercializing the school's ideas and research, one move in a set of "significant" changes announced Friday.

Former Vice President for Technology Venture Development Jack Brittain will return to a professor's chair at the end of a sabbatical this summer. Technology commercialization faculty and staff will report to Thomas Parks, a vice president who oversees all research at the school.

The U. is also retooling its process to give outside business people more influence. A new external advisory board will include an attorney, investors and entrepreneurs from around the country, chaired by Richard K. Koehn, a former U. vice president turned CEO.

"Based on their experience in the business sector, they'll act as advisers through the process of technology commercialization," said U. spokesman Keith Sterling.

The school will also create a seven-member internal steering committee that includes U. faculty members from business, medicine and engineering. "They want to have many voices at the table," Sterling said.

The U. became the most prolific school in the country for creating new startups under Brittain, but questions arose about whether some were only shell companies and about the difficulty of the school's licensing process.

Brittain, a management professor by training, stepped down nearly a year ago after seven years at the helm. He took a paid leave of absence from his $424,000-a-year vice-presidential job on July 1 to explore the creation of a new student entrepreneurship and commercialization institute.

Brittain could not be reached Friday for comment. When he returns, he's expected to have a role with the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, which already offers programs for student entrepreneurship. His new title will be Pierre Lassonde Presidential Endowed Professor.

His new salary wasn't available Friday, but "he'll no longer have a position on the cabinet, so that will see a reduction in compensation," Sterling said.

Brittain was promoted to vice president in 2005 as the U. ramped up its potentially lucrative efforts to get its ideas and research into the marketplace. Along with licensing, the office pursued the less-common path of creating bare-bones companies headquartered at the university, saying it allowed them to pursue federal and start-up money more quickly. But critics say the method could create conflicts of interest and antagonize other entrepreneurs. Some business people also said the U.'s research licensing process was too slow and onerous.

U. President David Pershing said the changes announced Friday will improve the process.

"I believe it is essential we establish an effective structure that will provide the support faculty, staff and students deserve while also ensuring that university technologies are being commercialized for the good of the state," he said in a statement.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst —

New technology venture committees at the U.

External Advisory Board:

James Dreyfous, managing director of Pelion Venture Partners

Jeffrey A. Fink, managing director of Gambel Oaks Advisors

Mary Merchant, Partner at law firm Ballard Spahr

Taft Price, general partner, Dominion Ventures and University of Utah trustee

Chair: Richard K. Koehn, president and CEO of SentrX Animal Care Inc. and former U. VP for research

Internal Steering Committee:

Troy D'Ambrosio, director of the Pierre Lassonde Institute

Eric Eddings, associate dean for research, College of Engineering

John Langell, director of the Center for Medical Innovation, School of Medicine)

Dean Li, vice dean for research, School of Medicine

Dennis Owens, associate general counsel

Bryan Ritchie, associate vice president and director, Technology Commercialization Office

Florian Solzbacher, professor, College of Engineering

Chair: Glenn Prestwich, presidential professor of Medicinal Chemistry and leader of the University's Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars group

Source: University of Utah